Monday, June 15, 2020

The Housemaid (1960 film)

Written and directed by Kim Ki-young, Hanyeo (The Housemaid) is the story of a troubled housemaid whose presence would cause chaos within a family in South Korea. The film is the study of class differences and the roles of family and the people who work for them as a new housemaid would seduce the family’s patriarch and create terror within the home. Starring Kim Jin-kyu, Ju Jeung-nyeo, and Lee Eun-shim. Hanyeo is a chilling yet intoxicating film from Kim Ki-young.

The film revolves around a music teacher who moves into a new home with his family as one of his students suggest in getting him a new housemaid who has some harboring resentment towards the teacher over a supposed affair as she would create chaos within the family. It’s a film that play into a man who is given the position to teach a group of women factory workers the chance to learn piano yet he also attracts a crush among one of the students. Yet, a letter to the teacher is discovered as a worker gets fired while the woman who actually wrote the letter feels guilty as she helps her teacher in getting a new housemaid unaware that the woman is troubled.

Kim Ki-young’s screenplay explore the family dynamic as Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) has moved his family to a city in the hopes to have a new home as his wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo) is pregnant with their third child while he’s teaching at this factory as he’s gained the crush of his student Kyung-hee Cho (Um Aing-ran). After her friend Seon-young Kwak (Ko Seon-ae) got fired for writing Cho’s letter, Cho tries to help Mr. Kim by hiring her roommate Myung-sook (Lee Eun-shim) unaware that she is a friend of Kwak and is unstable due to her offbeat behavior. The script play into Myung-sook’s behavior and how she would seduce Mr. Kim as it creates turmoil as well as this air of uncertainty into the family dynamic.

Ki-young’s direction is simple as it largely play into some of the claustrophobia within the apartment home the Kims live in. While there aren’t a lot of wide shots in the film other than to establish some bits of the location, much of Ki-young’s direction does emphasize on close-ups and medium shots to play into the intimacy of the apartment as well as the class room where Mr. Kim teaches. Ki-young also maintains this air of intrigue where the film begins with Mr. Kim in the living room with his wife and two kids as he reads about this story of a housemaid believing that it’s nonsense. Yet, it leads to this narrative of Mr. Kim being an object of affection for these women including Cho as she gets her roommate Myung-sook the job to be the housemaid with Cho hoping to win over Mr. Kim but things eventually become complicated.

Ki-young’s approach to the drama and suspense allows him to study the behavior of his characters as he also play into elements of surrealism and terror as it relates to Myung-sook’s behavior. Most notably in how she looks at things such as a tiny bottle of rat poison which is on a kitchen cabinet due to the rats at the Kims’ home. Even the way she looks at the children with an air of disdain as the drama intensifies in the third act. Notably due to Mr. Kim’s actions and how his wife has seen her whole family life coming apart with her children feeling uncomfortable including her newborn baby. It also play into this air of class as Mr. Kim who needs work to fund his lifestyle as his wife suffers from exhaustion from sewing as Myung-sook’s presence only worsens things to the point that the guilt within Mr. Kim finally reaches a breaking point. Overall, Ki-young crafts a haunting yet rapturous film about a family who hires a maid into their home unaware of the chaos she would bring into their lives.

Cinematographer Kim Deok-jin does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it adds a chilling atmosphere to the film with some intricate lighting by Ko Hae-jin who helps set a mood for the way the rooms are lit as well as the stairs. Editor Oh Young-geun does excellent work with the editing in its methodical approach to the suspense as it allows shot to linger for a bit to help maintain the air of dramatic tension throughout the film. Art director Park Seok-in does amazing work with the look of the house that the Kims live in from their work-in-progress state to their finished look as well as the room where Mr. Kim teaches music to his students.

The film’s special effects by Lee Sang-man does nice work with some of the film’s special effects as it relates to some of the surreal moments in the film that include a key scene on a staircase that play into the air of terror. The film’s music by Han Sang-gi is incredible for its eerie orchestral score filled with strings and piano to play up the dramatic tension and suspense as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Ko Seon-ae as a factory worker named Seon-young Kwak who gets fired for supposedly writing a love letter to Mr. Kim, Ahn Sung-ki as Kim’s son Chang-soon, Lee Yoo-ri as Kim’s somewhat-crippled daughter Ae-soon, and Um Aing-ran as Kim’s student Kyung-hee Cho who has a crush on Mr. Kim and would be the one to get Myung-sook the job as their housemaid. Lee Eun-shim is excellent as Myung-sook as this young woman who is hired to be a maid yet she is an eccentric figure with a dark demeanor as she falls for Mr. Kim and seduces him to the point that she would create chaos in the family. Ju Jeung-nyeo is brilliant as Mrs. Kim as a pregnant housewife who is dealing with exhaustion from working on her sewing machine and aftershock after seeing rats in her home as she copes with Myung-sook’s presence and later her husband’s actions. Finally, there’s Kim Jin-kyu in an amazing performance as Mr. Kim as a music/piano teacher hired by a factory to teach young women music as he copes with his work and later presence of Myung-sook as he would be consumed with guilt and disappointment at himself as it is an eerie performance from Jin-kyu.

Hanyeo is a tremendous film from Kim Ki-young. Featuring a great ensemble cast, its haunting premise, discomforting setting, ominous music score, and gorgeous yet chilling visuals that play into the dramatic tension and suspense. It’s a film that is definitely ahead of its time in its exploration of adultery as well as in its setting as it is a film that does have its sense of importance in the history of Korean cinema. In the end, Hanyeo is a spectacular film from Kim Ki-young.

© thevoid99 2020


Dell said...

I was not aware of this, but it sounds intriguing. It also sounds like it has some interesting parallels with Parasite. I need to check this out.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-It was on TCM recently yet it's also Criterion as part of a box set of films from around the world cultivated by Martin Scorsese. Bong Joon-ho does talk about this film as it was a big influence on Parasite as if it wasn't for this film. There wouldn't be the Korean cinema of today or from the past 20-25 years.