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Movie review: 'The Housemaid'

January 28, 2011|By Sheri Linden
  • Seo Woo stars in "The Housemaid."
Seo Woo stars in "The Housemaid." (IFC Films Release )

For the ultra-wealthy family at the center of "The Housemaid," the body of their young servant is yet another piece of property to manipulate and control. Reimagining Kim Ki-young's 1960 film of the same name — recently restored and rightly treasured — Im Sang-soo has heightened the class divide, and in the process turned a complex domestic horror-drama into a more explicit but less resonant film.

It's nonetheless sleek, erotic and suspenseful, at least for the first hour, and even with the piece wobbling between dark psychology and campy soap, the cast is compelling as it navigates the uncertainty.

The openhearted Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon of "Secret Sunshine") lands a job in the palatial home of a hotshot businessman, his pregnant-with-twins wife and their self-possessed young daughter, with whom she develops a rapport. Things are not so smooth with head housekeeper Mrs. Cho (a terrific Youn Yuh-jung), who turns out to be a passive-aggressive catalyst of the melodrama that unfolds.

The older woman is no less bitter for understanding the rules of the economic game. Her devil's bargain ties her to her employer's scheming mother-in-law, a villain of Shakespearean proportions but none of the Bard's nuance.

Eun-yi, of course, is no match for this clan, not least when her boss (Lee Jung-jae) enters her bedroom, wielding a rich boy's sense of entitlement. Writer-director Im stacks the deck to such a degree that the film's accusatory tone saps it of tension, especially as the choppy final sequences move unconvincingly toward their dreadful conclusion.

"The Housemaid." No MPAA rating. In Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.

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