Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Housemaid (1960)

Original Title: Hanyo

Director & Writer: Kim Ki-young

Starring: Lee Eun-shimJu Jeung-nyeo, Kim Jin Kyu

Plot: "The film is a domestic horror thriller telling of a family's destruction by the introduction of a sexually predatory femme fatale into the household. A piano composer has just moved into a two-story house with his wife and two children. When his pregnant wife becomes exhausted from working at a sewing machine to support the family, the composer hires a housemaid to help with the work around the house." - Wikipedia

Click here for the full movie:


I really don't have much experiences with regards to Korean cinema, let alone a 1960 black and white film, so I didn't know what to expect. I saw HORROR, DRAMA, FEMME FATALE, THRILLER - so I just assumed it's a scorned mistress who dies then comes back as an angry ghost haunting and scaring the living daylights out of the household members. LOL me and my cliches.


Black and white. Generic plot - a family's normal life disrupted by women obsessed with a married man. Just plain drama, minus the horror ghost story (thank god! I can only watch filipino/american horror movies - bec asian horror is just truly superior & 100% creepy and I can't handle it.). In other words, it's your typical run-of-the-mill drama movie. Nothing more to expect, right?

Well what I didn't expect was that this seemingly average film with all it's simple elements or limitations has managed to turn it into something complex and with thrilling unpredictability. I was shocked - to actually see this masterpiece hiding in obscurity, and enjoy it immensely. 

Everything about it screams classic, and yet it's techniques are even better than most modern movies. The director is a genius. The story itself, instead of sticking to the formula of its genre, has written a convoluted story of human morality, obsessive love, betrayal in such a way that you really can't predict what will happen; and made it so thrilling that you find yourself on the edge of your seat, waiting for the scene to unfold. What also made this film more interesting is that the villain is a female sexual predator with a seemingly unstable personality - which defies how Korean women at that time should act in society. This antagonist gets what she wants and she took control and made everyone around her submissive to her wishes. I wouldn't expound on the plot/story anymore. You just have to watch it.

The acting is great. One of the best from any cast I've seen. Even the children were so damn effective (esp the boy). The housemaid, hands down, is the star of this movie. She is so freaky and terrifying, but still managed to evoke my sympathy. The couple did great too. Each one of them are worthy of praise because if handled sloppily, their characters will lose something. Whether they'll lose the sympathy from the audience, or credibility. Superior acting. (I've read that the actress who played the housemaid has been so effective that women hated her so much that movie producers were hesitant to cast her in other projects. Her career went to a screeching halt. Pity.)

My favorite aspect of this movie is its camera works. Wow. I really love it. It reminded me of Hitchcock, with its playful camera angles, & uncommon camera movements, zooming in and out from one room to another in a fluid technique. Every shot has a purpose, even the littlest, seemingly random things in the house helped in adding to the sinister feel of the movie. Add in the piano sounds properly injected in scenes, the result is an ominous, creepy mood all throughout. The editing is very clean and seamless. I really like that fade out-fade in transition of scenes. Unlike the movies nowadays with their lazy editing.

This film has been restored and the result was great with sharp black & white photography, and even with those scenes that are patchy/blurry, the product is magnificent. The lighting is great. Again, this is a superior movie, can't stress that enough. :)

The ending was totally unexpected but I surely liked it. In fact, it's what made this film perfect for me (of course aside from everything i just mentioned). It's the cherry on top. Besides, if they didn't do that, I wouldn't have liked the last scene where the wife said "Oh, if only I hadn't wanted the new house." Referring to her argument with his husband about why he had cheated on her. I was like oh no no no mister! do NOT justify your betrayal because your wife wanted a bigger house! -_- 

One thing that I wanted to change though is the length of the movie. For me, 2 hours is too long for a story with that ending. But then again I couldn't think of a single scene which I could throw away. Every scene, however small or random, is woven so artistically and helped in the plot and character development. So yeah. Couldn't edit out anything. I think the reason why I'm complaining is because I was watching it on Youtube and I hate watching movies online, sitting in this uncomfortable chair. So maybe it has nothing to do with the movie, and everything to do with the flat, useless cushion under my butt. -_-

Before I end this review, I also want to add another favorite aspect of this film. THE SLIDING DOORS. O_O I have never seen a movie which involves ALOT of sliding doors being opened and closed. O_O I'm not sure if you will agree, but to me, it added something to the movie. It added tension. And flavor. The housemaid and the sliding doors worked so well together it's really amusing but also impressive - it shows that she's still an outsider even in the same house, and when she peeks thru the doors it shows her tendencies to overstep boundaries. The sliding doors and the guy showed the viewers his rejection and anguish. With the wife, it shows unconditional devotion willing to turn a blind eye on what's about to happen to the housemaid. I LOVE THE SLIDING DOORS AND THE SOUNDS THEY MAKE!! LOL

The Verdict:

It's obvious. This is a great film. So simple and yet so complicated. It teaches you that love should be taken seriously and treated responsibly, and that one mistake, whether it's intentional or not, could turn your world upside down. A brilliant, timeless masterpiece that must have been controversial during its time, and still relevant in this modern age.

My Ratings: 

4.5/5 - Definitely worth watching.

Do you think the villain (housemaid) has a redeeming quality?

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  1. Loved your review.. I too watched this film, and you are completely accurate in your well-written review.... Enjoyed reading it!!!!

  2. thank you :) what did you think about the sliding doors? lol

  3. I thought that was nice effect for closure within the scenes and what each scene represented.... example: Husband was truly disgusted wth housemaid pyscho-biopolar woman, so when he existed the room, and pulled the doors closed, he was closing her out.(or unsuccessfully trying to )

  4. The scenes were a bit off of the beaten-path for typical-thrillers such as this...The cinematography,the shots of walls inside the house, al in all the doors to me, came into play as a symbol of turning ones back and also closing out what was to come....

  5. yes! exactly what i was saying!! :) the husband closing the door on the maid is very symbolic of him rejecting her advances, and telling her to stay away from them.

    i just enjoyed the play on doors... it's really something u cant help but notice.

  6. The doors were a highlight in the film.... They captured attention in every scene they were displayed in.

  7. You had asked this question in your review : Do you think the villain (housemaid) has a redeeming quality?

    I believe that all humans deep within have some redeeming quality on some level, this housemaid was very troubled,and had a battle with obvious emotional issues,but somewhere deep inside her, yes, " I believe she did!"

    1. i agree, the reason I asked is because some villains were really painted as pure evil with no other motivation except that they like spreading pain and suffering.

      the housemaid is an outsider. even in the factory she mentioned she was taught how to smoke just so they could order her around with a promise of cigarettes.

      she's a simple-minded person, but like any other creature, she wanted love and acceptance. she just didn't understand the gravity of what she did.

      her redeeming quality is that what she felt was real love for that man. and she felt compassion with the wife to do that to her own baby. she is a complex character, u can practically see logic, emotions, and eveyrthing else battling inside her.

    2. Yes.... I agree.... She did show love for that man, and all that she did own within her heart she offered to him, even if she had to manipulate him to have somehow sadly made her feel whole.... She did feel some emotion for the wife, but she felt that she had to have the husband to be a complete individual, saying , that she was one that was not in control of realizing her own self-worth as a person and woman....I really believe that possessing him more than loving him is more appropriate, as she stole his sanity to fulfill a lacking quality of a woman that was just existing before and not living... that unhealthy obsession was her own demise, in the end , and still she could not possess him as she desired.

    3. yes, obsessive love is one of the main theme in this movie. other movies fail to tell us how this kind of love affects us all because they resort to cheap melodrama tactics. this movie gave us a glimpse in each character's point of view, thus making it more effective all the more

  8. Yes... it certainly did ... In the most simplistic and ordinary form used, raw truth... I tend to appreciate the older films technique of reality as it gives us all a view of how life really can be, not fabricated or changed as the majority of more recent films are made these days...

    I believe that ethics and morality are things that should not be altered into some 2013 century of modern ruination of how life really has always been inside peoples own hearts for centuries.

  9. what's your favorite scene in the movie? or technique?

  10. hummm.... My fav scene was when she was standing by the glass door looking outside and dropped her clothes, to entice the husband... It showed for once in her character that she was sure of herself... which to her, was a great confidence since confidence was a stranger in her past before that moment.

  11. my favorite part is when she sneaks into the piano room from her bedroom. the way the angle moves so fluidly is just so nice to watch. also when she's suddenly standing somewhere (doors, stair whatever) and she just looks creepy. ahahahha

    another thing i like is the camera shots from the cupboards. when they open it and u see from the inside and their reactions when they see the rat poison.

  12. Yes.. I agree.. those were excellent moments in the film... all in all, this is one of the best films I have ever watched... I was on the edge if my seat throughout the entire film... no boring moments in this one... hats off to perfection in movie making :)



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