A wealthy corrupt family hires a
naïve young woman to look after their daughter and cater to their increasing
selfish kinks in this powerful erotic thriller from South Korean
writer/director Im Sang-soo. When Eun-yi (Jeon Doyoun) first arrives at the Goh
family’s palatial country home she thinks she’s landed her dream job.
Developing a playful bond with the family’s grade school age daughter, Nami,
Eun-yi initially ignores warnings from the autocratic old housekeeper (Yun
Yeo-jong) that the Goh’s are scary lot.
The first signs of trouble arise
one night when the family’s well built sexually abusive patriarch, Hoon (Le
Jung-jae), makes up for a bad night in the sack with his terribly pregnant wife
Hae-ra (Seo Woo) by seducing the nanny with a vintage bottle of wine and the
demand that she go down on him. The seduction is set up for us by a delicious
split-screen shot where director Im Sang-soo has Hoon accidentally walk in on
the maid as she’s scrubbing down the family’s luxurious bathtub. Shooting from
behind Hoon the director allows us into his erotic reverie as he watches his
spoiled wife sipping wine in their bedroom while the maid unintentionally
performs a sort of sensual undressing as her cleaning cloth wipes away traces
of the wife’s fluids from the tub.
The first forty minutes of The
Housemaid are a delicious upending of the proprieties of bourgeois life as
the husband employs his lanky torso, the contents of his wine cellar and his
checkbook to keep the women in his life on a tight leash. He indulges his
wife’s petty need to dominate lower status women by promising to fulfill her
agenda to have a big family without satisfying his sexual appetites. These are
indulged with the maid, whose childlike temperament and impetuosity makes sex
with her seem a Lolita like violation. Meanwhile he keeps the increasingly
bitter old housekeeper in line with checks and efforts to assist the career of
her adult lawyer son.
Eun-yi is initially taken in by
this family’s façade of politeness as she announces to Nami one night while
sitting on the child’s bed surrounded by her spoiled kid’s collection of
expensive dolls and stuffed animals.
“I love how you’re such a nice
girl. You’re not bad tempered, you’re polite to me.”
“I learned that from father. He
said to treat people politely, it may seem like a sign of respect, but it’s
really putting myself first.”
Eun-yi learns the import of Nami’s
confession when daddy saunters half naked into her bedroom later that night and
uses the wine as tool to exact a brutal specific sex act.
“I’m going to cum. Can I do it
“Then let me cum in your mouth.”
“Not now. Suck it hard when I put
“Suck it like a straw.”
“I’m so scared.”
“What are you scared of?”
“Now in your mouth!”
This consummation between the
master and his maid is silently witnessed by the old housekeeper whose shocked
countenance becomes a preview of the last half of the film’s deadly dance of
As he did so brilliantly in his
2003 Korean feminist thriller, A Good Lawyer’s Wife, Im Sang-soo
demonstrates how the trappings of upscale Western consumerism – Hoon’s ever
present glasses of red wine, his chilly mastery of Beethoven’s piano sonatas,
the family’s heated indoor pool – become implements of destruction in a
ferocious struggle for power between the sexes.
Deep into the second act the wife,
Hae-ra -- who we catch digesting Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal feminist
manifesto The Second Sex, as if it were a manual on war by other means –
conspires with her scheming mom (Park Ji-young) to destroy their maid’s life
(including her unborn child by Hoon) as a way of exacting control over the
presumptuous behavior of her born to wealth husband.
Just as in A Good Lawyer’s Wife when
the heroine decides to exact revenge on her philandering hubby she does so by
taking a teenage male lover, Hoon tilts the scales in his favor by knocking up
the childlike Eun-yi.
As with Ang Lee’s masterful
deconstruction of the incestuous games of two Watergate era American families
in The Ice Storm, Im Sang-soo carefully frames the Goh’s illicit
liaisons against the backdrop of a bleakly beautiful if very ice cold Korean
winter – at one point we watch Hoon receiving oral sex from the maid through a
window where we observe crystal white snow flakes falling, as if the purity of
the freshly fallen snow could expunge the evil intent behind his lust.
Trust it to the Koreans to give us
an Upstairs/Downstairs revenge fueled melodrama that climaxes with a
troubled family getting a flaming floor show at their exclusive country
hideaway. Laced with hot master/servant sex, this one puts one’s appetite for
the New Korean Cinema to an ultimate test.