Sunday, January 16, 2011

I want my underwear to be handwashed

The Housemaid (2010) - Im
Plotwise, this remake of the old Korean classic doesn't rise above Lifetime channel movie of the week - a naive young woman getting a job at a super rich family mansion as a housemaid, sexually being taken advantage of by its handsome head of the family, gets pregnant, forced to have her baby aborted, takes revenge.

But under Im Sang-soo (President's Last Bang)'s direction, the film becomes a sly take on class a la Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoigie. It starts out with a random suicide of a girl in a busy neon and glass night where fashionable young people hang out. The difference of their young carefree life and people who serve them is shown in a very effective handheld- documentary style. Our heroine Eun-yi (adorable Jeon Do-yeon), a lowly restaurant worker is seen trying to get a peek at the fresh corpse. She is not frightened or sad, just curious.

I don't have to mention anything obvious here - the power play involving oral sex, the importance of male in Korean household... The thing is, everything, from set design, framing to acting, is just flawless. Im's robotic precision is counterbalanced by Jeon's good hearted, if not naive Eun-yi and Yun Yeo-jong's Byung-sik, the all knowing, eye-rolling, head of the caretakers. Despite all the fabulous looking people in the film, the middle aged Byung-sik, whose lifelong servitude to the obscenely rich family which make her a conflicted character, so much fun to watch.

Im saves the grotesquery of the wealthy to the last minute. But the build up (to the not so subtle climax and ending that can be read as slapdash) is so engaging and understated that it only amplifies the brilliance of Im's precision filmmaking.

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