Im Sang-soo’s Housemaid remake could use a declutter.
“This job is RUNS. Revolting, Ugly, Nauseating, and Shameless.”
Recently I spoke of Kim Ki-young’s Housemaid trilogy, three movies which were – in essence – remakes of each other having the same rough outline, characters and plot progression with the major difference being the decade in which they were released. Due to the story’s commentary-heavy nature, The Housemaid movies serve as a window into the divide between classes over the years, and so it’s fitting that there would be at least one more iteration set in these troubled times.
In 2010, Im Sang-Soo released his version of the story and this time in the company of the ultra-rich, rather than the story’s typical semi-successful musician family. Jeon Do-yeon stars as Eun-yi, a restaurant worker who takes a job as an au pair for the extremely precocious but nonetheless very sweet Nami (Ahn Seo-hyun). Her parents, and Eun-yi’s bosses, are millionaire father Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) and his young and naïve wife Hae-ra (Seo Woo). After Hoon abuses his position of power to sleep with Eun-yi, getting her pregnant along the way, things in the house start to deteriorate.
The base plot is, once again, similar to the others in the series but The Housemaid makes some bold, though not always wise, changes. In contrast to its trilogy of predecessors, the movie has a modern, stylish look to it which emphasises the almost alien nature of the family. The cold detachment they hold to the rest of the world is further emphasised by the snowy landscapes and crisp white interiors of their unsettlingly large house. It’s a stark visual change from, say, Woman of Fire which used a crowded frame and scorching reds to emphasise the madness that was to come.
This alternate take on the tone of the movie does colour the entire film, as it were. It feels as though some of the edges have been sanded down. Eun-yi is played as a victim to Hoon, which certainly makes it work within the 21st century context but robs her of vital agency and she spends roughly 90 of the movie’s 107 minutes existing somewhat passively. She’s too nice and this makes her eventual snap more of a shock for sure, but less justified.
While the commentary is updated (and a touch on the nose), it’s done so at the cost of taking away the tense dynamic between the wife and the housemaid that makes the original films so gripping. New characters are added, some of which work and some of which don’t. On the one hand there’s Hae-ra’s mother (Park Ji-young), whose addition effectively makes Hae-ra unneeded. She plays a meddling villain well, but in a story that’s better served without a clear-cut bad guy pushing people off ladders.
However, on the other hand, bringing Youn Yuh-juh back (after her starring role as the housemaid in Woman of Fire) as the senior maid adds a different and very interesting dynamic. While much of the tension between the husband, wife and titular housemaid has vanished, the inclusion of Youn’s Madame Cho means we get something else in its place. She’s a character who lives to serve this family, but deep down hates it. It’s hard to piece together what the character’s up to, which makes for a compelling, complex character who’s likely manipulating things behind the scenes.
In truth, I don’t quite know what to make of The Housemaid. It never seems certain of where it wants to go. It’s categorised as an erotic thriller, but lacks any of the Fatal Attraction heat and madness. It’s stuck in the middle, never quite committing to a particular idea. It only has one steamy sex scene, one moment of Eun-yi losing her mind, one cruel act from the mother in law – one of everything salacious and interesting that this kind of story needs. Nevertheless it remained entertaining throughout, even if it could have used some of its third act spark a bit sooner.
Verdict: Entertaining for what it is, The Housemaid remake is a weak entry in the series, but nevertheless is relatively successful in adapting the story for a 21st century audience.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Commoners: Only have 2 kids. You gotta have four.
Drinks: Wine, wine and more wine
Final scene: What, did David Lynch happen to be on set that day?
Obligatory Squid Game mention: If Hoon has all this money, why did he need to enter the Squid Game?
The Housemaid (2010)
Also known as: 하녀
Director: Im Sang-soo
Writer: Im Sang-soo
Jeon Do-yeon – Eun-yi
Lee Jung-jae – Hoon
Seo Woo – Hae-ra
Youn Yuh-jung – Byeong-sik
Ahn Seo-hyun – Nami
Park Ji-young – Mi-hee
Moon So-ri – Obstetrician