Movie review: The Housemaid, opening Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Genre: Foreign, Drama
Opens Friday, February, 25th 2011 (exclusively at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak)
Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes, Not Yet Rated (but definitely R or above and intended for adults)
Starring: Jeon Do-youn, Lee Jung-jae Lee, Youn Yuh-Jung, Seo Woo
Directed by Im Sang-soo
This South Korean erotic thriller is a beautifully photographed and patient film, that takes it's time with each moment and each shot. The result is an effective bit of adult melo-drama that keeps you captivated from start to finish, even if portions of the film unfold like a day-time soap.
The Plot. The movie begins as we see a young woman, unrecognizable really, leaping off of an overpass and to her death on the busy Korean street below. This scene sets the tone of the movie, that there is darkness lurking just out of frame. From there, we see a young woman delicately played by Jeon Do-youn, who takes a job as the new housemaid for a very wealthy Korean couple. The wife is pregnant with twins, and they have a young daughter who grows very close to the new housemaid. The longer the housemaid works, she realizes that the wealthy husband Hoon (Lee Jung-Jae), gets and takes whatever he wants. When he seduces her, she becomes pregnant herself, and when the family finds out they try to force the young maid to have an abortion...but she is not willing to make that decision, despite the persuasion of the wealthy family.
So from that description, you are in for some heavy stuff. The film, like many non-American films, has a sensuality and exotic quality, and is very comfortable with the portrayal of sex and passion. It doesn't shy away from the material but never turns gratuitous.
Yeo-Jong Yun is terrific as an aging housemaid already established in the house, who holds many dark secrets. Her presence on screen made the film darker and more mysterious.
But the film itself loses some steam once the wife's mother comes into play. She is an evil, controlling woman in which the film doesn't care to spend time establishing her as anything but. This character and other simple holes in the plot grounded the film in mediocrity. The trouble that the housemaid gets into could have all been avoided had she just refused the husband's passes and taken her job on a bit more professionally. I get it, she was influenced by the powerful older man and couldn't have possibly predicted what was to come. But still, each situation that moves the plot along seems to be something only possible in the movies.
Even still, "The Housemaid" is well-crafted enough to make it compelling but just lacks the amount of true substance needed to make it great. It's a solid entry and a film worth checking out, if for nothing else than the masterful cinematography and mood-inducing visuals not that common in American-made movies.
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