Noirvember 2020, Episode 19: The Housemaid (1960)
The Housemaid (1960)
Directed, produced, and written by Kim Ki-young
Cinematography by Kim Deok-jij
Edited by Kim Ki-young
Music by Han Sang-gi
Distributed by Kuk Dong, Seki Trading Co.
(1:51) Noir City International, AFI Silver, streaming
Please do not interpret this short review as a slight to the film. On the contrary, I could talk for hours about The Housemaid, and hope to write more on it later, but Noirvember moves quickly, and I have to try and keep up.
“Having a young girl in the house is like offering raw meat to a tiger.”
Plain and simple (yet nothing about this film is plain and simple), a young composer/music teacher named Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) moves his wife and precocious children into a larger home, a big step up from their middle-class existence. At work, Kim receives a love letter from one of his students, which briefly disrupts his life. But that’s nothing compared to the new housemaid he hires, a young woman named Myung-sook (Lee Eun-shim), who was recommended by another of Kim’s students (Um Aing-ran).
I can’t describe what happens next any better than what’s written in the official Noir City 18 program, as Kim and his wife employ “a young woman whose strange, provocative behavior turns their drab domestic life into a delirious nightmare of repressed desires, unleashed. A film that is relentless, claustrophobic, and unpredictable; a wicked combination of soap opera, noir, and horror - as amusing as it is shocking.”
Of all the films I’ve seen from Noir City International, this is the one I most want to revisit soon. A more modern film that comes to mind for purposes of comparison is Fatal Attraction (1987), yet The Housemaid is bolder, more unpredictable, and more jaw-dropping than Adrian Lyne’s psychological thriller. While watching The Housemaid, I thought the experience was like witnessing a train wreck, but a train wreck is over relatively quickly. Seeing The Housemaid is like watching a train as it slowly deteriorates, a few molecules at a time.
No spoilers, but The Housemaid contains the type of ending I normally cannot tolerate, but in this case it works. In short, don’t miss The Housemaid.
The Housemaid is also available on Blu-ray as part of Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project No. 1 set.