Fifty years ago, THE HOUSEMAID (1960) was widely regarded as one of the finest Korean movies ever made. That is why when a remake is announced, the buzz is quickly generated like a spreading wildfire. Writer-director Im Sang-Soo has definitely take pride to make this modern version of THE HOUSEMAID into something worth respecting for. The result is an elegantly-paced, glossy erotic thriller that we rarely see such genre cinema these days.
The premise, in the meantime, is simplistic in nature: Eun-Yi (Jeon Do-Yeon) is handpicked by an elderly housekeeper Byung-Sik (Yun Yeo-Jing) to serve in a wealthy household consisting of three family members -- the master of the house Hoon (Lee Jung-Jae), his highly-pregnant wife Haera (Seo Woo) who is expecting a pair of twins due anytime soon, and their well-mannered daughter Nami (Ahn Seo-Hyeon). At the beginning, Eun-Yi arrives at the house looking shy but she is obedient enough to carry her job very well. Soon it also doesn't take long before she strikes up a friendship with Nami. For Eun-Yi, everything seems too perfect to be believed but it's just a matter of time when Hoon starts to rear his ugly side. When Hoon surprises her by showing up in her room, they end up engaging in a forbidden sexual act that Eun-Yi herself can't help resisting at all. Their sexual encounter doesn't stop there, as they continue to engage such act for the second time. Except this time, Byung-Sik witnessed the incident and soon all hell breaks loose. Eun-Yi begins to find herself pregnant with Hoon's child, but because social indifference between them, it's natural that Hoon doesn't want a bastard child in his family.
A critical hit at the Cannes Film Festival, Im Sang-Soo's THE HOUSEMAID is a distinctive piece of genre cinema made for the grown-ups. The production is top-notch, while the story is sneaky enough for an erotic thriller even though there aren't much sex scenes worth remembering for. At the same time, the movie also works well as a cautionary tale between the bitter consequences of lower-and-higher class of peoples.
But what makes THE HOUSEMAID equally memorable are the flawless cast here. Headlining the small ensemble here, is the incomparable Jeon Jo-Yeon in one of her finest performances to date. Playing a commoner with a taste of lust is definitely nothing new for her (she did it before in 1999's HAPPY END) and she truly steals the show here. We really feel her shame and pain she has to go through all the traumatic experiences after encountering a series of forceful situations she doesn't have a place to bargain with. That is why by the time she begins to lose everything (not to mention, her sanity as well), the movie's ending is no doubt one of the most disturbing set-pieces ever seen in recent memory, the kind that sticks to your memory long after the credits roll. Lee Jung-Jae is suitably despicable as the cold-blooded Hoon, while the rest of the supporting actors engage their respective roles with equal flairs.