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Review: Sang-soo Im's The Housemaid (2011)

Jan. 17, 2011by: Joe Hui

PLOT: Eun-yi (Cannes Best Actress winner Jeon Do-youn of SECRET SUNSHINE) is hired as a nanny in an impossibly lavish mansion by businessman Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) and his very pregnant wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo). When Hoon callously seduces the young maid, she becomes the unwitting victim in a battle of wills between him and the scheming women of the house-Hae-ra, her villainous mother (Park Ji-young), and their seemingly loyal but increasingly bitter housekeeper (Yun Yeo-jong). Intensely erotic and fiendishly entertaining, THE HOUSEMAID builds to an unforgettable climax as Eun-yi tries to maintain her cunning to protect her sanity-and her life-from the ruthless vipers around her.

REVIEW: Even being a fan of Asian horror films and of Asian heritage, I still found The Housemaid pretty disturbing. Before you read any further it’s more in the vein of Old Boy as a messed up drama rather than the traditional gore and violence. The good part is, it's not boring with sex spread on pretty thick also being the catalyst that drives the movie. This was a great F-ed up Korean flick that will be sure to have you feeling... perturbed by the end.

Without giving anything else away, what disturbed me the most were the stoic and unemotional faces of all the members of the family. None of them, not even the 6 year old daughter, ever smiles in the whole movie. They just have this unimpressed look on their faces, it was, in fact quite eerie and disturbing. Eun-Yi the housemaid is always smiling and chipper, a sharp contrast to the dark emotionless family. A directing decision I noticed immediately and chipped at me through out the entire movie. It was just really bizarre how cold these people were. One side for me though... that rich wife must be one of the hottest Asian women I've seen on camera... wow... and yes she's got a nude scene!

The pacing of this movie though is generally pretty slow. Like most Korean thrillers there is no rushing as the story unfolds. You definitely don’t have that fast paced editing style of Saw or it's ilk, so be prepared for a slower drama as this story unfolds and the truly twisted portion unfolds. A review for a film like this is really difficult because most of the film is set up and very little happens... but when things DO end up happening it is a shock and something that is best left as a surprise.

Though it's not gratuitous there is a fair bit of sex going on in this movie and I'm not sure if it's the Asian style of if that's just how Asian women do it... but besides having long conversations during sex in this movie (yeah kinda weird... I know)... there is a sense of rape-like quality to it all. Especially the final one where the girl is going on about how she is scared. The best way to describe it is that I felt icky after watching the sex scenes. Could be that I was in an audience of journalists, where nearly everyone was over the age of 50 and next to me was a woman that looked like she could have been in her mid 60's... awkward.

My overall opinion for The Housemaid is that it is a great dramatic tale about how f-ed up rich people can be. Despite the slow burn of the film the payoff really is worth the price of admission while uncomfortably watching how messed up people can be. I don't recall ever doing this in my life before, but through out the whole film, I kept thinking, "wow these people are just really really creepy" and not the Adams Family kind that are also kooky. They legitimately creeped the hell out of me. A new emotional experience for someone like me, who has seen more movies than I can remember, is quite an amazing feat! Visually this erotic thriller had a great, slow eerie pace. Even during the sex scenes there was this rape like creepiness to it all. I recommend this as a good one to check out if you're into foreign films.

The Housemaid will be released on January 21st in New York and January 28th in Los Angeles.

RATING: 7/10

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