‘The Housemaid’: A sexy import from Korea with unclear motivations

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, February 18, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

A virile man of the house, a pregnant wife, an attractive but shy new nanny. You can kind of see what’s coming from far off.

Still, “The Housemaid” creates a few unexpected moments in playing out this classic situation of lust and caution. Maybe not enough to explain its existence, but enough to keep it from getting dull, which it most decidedly is not.

The new housemaid is Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), an introverted type, given to inexplicable outbursts of laughter. She doesn’t seem to have too much experience in worldly matters when she is hired to work in a businessman’s mansion.

The worldly stuff will be handled by the elder maid (Youn Yuh-jung), who’s seen everything in her time with this family. The wine-slurping husband (Lee Jung-yae) has needs that his extremely pregnant wife (Seo Woo) is not meeting, so he confidently goes about the business of bedding the vulnerable new housekeeper.

On that score, “The Housemaid” qualifies as a sex picture for the arthouse. It’s got enough heavy breathing to attract curiosity even from people who don’t normally seek out subtitled fare.

As for the rest of it — well, this is a very curious movie. It’s a remake of a 1960 South Korean melodrama, and the plotline feels like something out of an earlier mode of storytelling.

But director Im Sang-soo, whose “President’s Last Bang” was a lively release from a few years ago, isn’t really an old-fashioned storyteller. And at times while watching his version of “The Housemaid,” one wonders whether he is sending up the rather creaky manner of another time.

Or maybe, as Todd Haynes did with “Far From Heaven,” he’s paying tribute to a distinctly bygone style in movies. Could be. “The Housemaid” certainly doesn’t come in a realistic mode, with its sleek design and muted color scheme.

And toward the end, things get really wild. I guess this is where it would be nice to know whether Im Sang-soo means his film to be taken straight or with a bit of tongue in cheek. Maybe he shouldn’t have to explain that mix, but when a movie’s purpose is as murky as this, a nudge in the right direction would be welcome.

“The Housemaid” ½

An attractive, shy housemaid moves into a mansion where the husband’s needs are not being met — a recipe for heated melodrama in this remake of a 1960 South Korean picture. The film goes over the top quite memorably, but it’s not easy to tell whether the purpose is straight or somewhat tongue-in-cheek. In Korean, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, violence, subject matter

Showing: Varsity

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