Sunday, August 27, 2023

Rat in a Cage

The Housemaid (1960) - Kim Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 12.48.19 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 12.50.48 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 1.46.10 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 2.39.38 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 2.43.25 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 2.56.27 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 2.57.54 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 3.00.24 PM Screen Shot 2023-08-25 at 3.05.00 PM Mainly taking place in a two-story house, Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid is a high on cringe, yet effective melodrama that says a lot about rapidly changing capitalist society. Based on a real life news clip, it tells of an aspiring middle-class family trying to move up in the ladder, at all cost. Studious Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) is a music teacher who conducts a choir composed of a gaggle of gossipy female mill workers (incentives provided by the factory). In order to renovate his newly bought house, Kim actively pursues anyone for private lessons. Because he is a suave, good looking man, there are a lot of adoring workers who want his attention. But he is a married family man, a straight shooter. So when he discovers a love letter planted by one of the adoring girls, he straight up reports to the management, and the girl gets suspended and she later commits suicide. But it is Ms. Cho, the dead girl's best friend, who is in love with him as she takes private lessons to be closer to him.

In the meantime, Kim's seamstress wife's health is failing and will be in need of a housemaid to do house chores and take care of their two growing young children- a hyperactive boy Changsoon and a crippled older sister Aesoon. Ms. Cho introduces Ms. Kwak (Ko Seon-ae), a wide eyed young woman from the factory for the job. She becomes increasingly unstable and throws herself on Kim, then he and his family become the hostage of her threats of going to the authorities. Kim and his family, afraid of losing their aspiring petit bourgeoisie existence, gets trapped in living hell.

The lower class and middle class fighting for the scraps in vertical hierarchy is pronounced more subtly. Knowing Cho is in love with Kim, Kwak naturally wants what Cho has. It's not lust she's after. She just wants what others have, because that's what a consumerist capitalist is supposed to do. The premise might resemble some cheesy 90s psychosexual thriller but its presentation is nothing but - Kim' style is very much indebted to Hitchcock - constant tracking shots, use of space and even POV of water glass containing rat poison.

Bong Joonho apparently is a big fan of the film and took inspiration from it to make his award winning Parasite. But whereas his film (and his films in general) feels highly superficial, too overwrought and heavy on unsubtle symbolism, The Housemaid is bustling with raw energy and plays out like a neo-realist melodrama. Yes, the two-story house and a constantly featured wooden stairs are symbols of a rising middle class's upward mobility. But more than anything, it says a lot about people living under constant pressure of losing everything in a capitalist society. It is their fear which even overcomes murder(s). If you were moved by family devotion and sacrifice in Parasite, the murders and depravity toward children in The Housemade will shock you.

Is it the puffy tail that makes all the difference between a rat and a squirrel? You might have achieved the goal of becoming petit-bourgeoisie by having a pet squirrel, but you will always have rat poison hidden away in the cupboard. The Housemaid pokes at these conundrums of living in a rapidly developing capitalist society.