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The Housemaid (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #690 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 9, 2013 by  



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If you enjoy films such as “Fatal Attraction” or want to experience a dark Korean ’60s melodrama, “The Housemaid” is an enjoyable film which has earned its reputation as one of the greatest Korean films ever made.  Kim Ki-young’s “The Maid” is a wonderful addition to the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”!

Image courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Housemaid (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #690

RELEASE OF FILM: 1960

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:60:1 aspect ratio, black and white, Monaural, in Korean with English subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/The Film Foundation/World Cinema Project/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: December 10, 2013

Written and Directed by Ki-young Kim

Music by Sang-gi Han

Cinematography by Deok-jin Kim

Edited by Young-keun Oh

Art Direction by Seok-in Park

Starring:

Kim Jin-kyu as Mr. Kim

Jeung-nyeo Ju as Mrs. Kim

Eun-shim Lee as the Maid

Aing-ran Um  as the Piano student

Ahn Sung-ki as Mr. Kim’s son

Seok-je Kang as Mr. Kim’s daughter

THE HOUSEMAID A torrent of intimate obsession, revenge, and betrayal is unleashed under one roof in this venomous melodrama from South Korean master Kim Ki-young. Immensely popular in its home country when it was released, The Housemaid is the thrilling, at times jaw-dropping story of the devastating effect an unstable housemaid has on the domestic cocoon of a bourgeois, morally dubious music teacher, his devoted wife, and their precocious young children. Grim and taut yet perched on the border of the absurd, Kim’s film is an engrossing tale of class warfare and familial disintegration that has been hugely influential on the new generation of South Korean directors.

In 1960, “Haneyo” (The Housemaid) directed by Kim Ki-young was released in theaters.  A major breakthrough film for filmmmaker Kim Ki-young, the film was a big shock to audiences and included a visual style that was created during a transitional period between the rule of Syngman Rhee and General Park Chung-Hee.

Because the transitional period gave filmmakers a chance to create bold new works without strict government control, Kim Ki-young was able to direct “The Housemaid”, a film that was an expressionistic melodrama.

While the film would become part of “The Housemaid” trilogy, which includes “Woman of Fire” (1971) and “Woman of Fire ’82” (1982), Kim Ki-young would continue to make films of this theme in “The Insect Woman” (1972) and “Beasts of Prey” (1985) and would inspire a remake in 2010 by Im Sang-soo (which is less of a remake as there are differences from the 2010 film versus the 1960 film).

But for many, it’s the original that people tend to look to as cinematic free expression and a film that would be considered as one of the greatest Korean films of all time.

While “The Housemaid” is no doubt a masterpiece from filmmaker Kim Ki-young, it’s also a film that was missing reels that were considered lost.  And in 1997, at the Busan International Film Festival, a Kim retrospective featured “The Housemaid” utilizing the recovered release print that had English subtitles.

For its restoration, Korean archivist had a difficult job as they had to erase the English subtitles on every frame for two ten-minute segments and even with the financial support of the Word Cinema Project, removing the English subtitles appeared to be impossible until the Korean Film Archive and the Seoul National University Intelligent Signal Processing Laboratory were able to work with computer scientists and technicians to find a way to eliminate all traces of the English subtitle and by 2008, the film’s restored version was released for its world premiere.

And now “The Housemaid” will be released on Blu-ray+DVD as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project” from the Criterion Collection.

“The Housemaid” begins with Mr. Dong-sik Kim (portrayed by Kim Jin-kyu) and Mrs. Kim (portrayed by Ju Jueung-nyeo) discussing a news article about the man and the family maid having an affair.  Mrs. Kim has a hard time understanding why a man would do such a thing and can’t believe it would happen. Mr. Kim then begins to explain how it is possible.

The film moves to women at a factory choosing a club to part of for their education.  Many women join the music club because of their piano teacher Mr. Kim  and one tries to slip a note to the teacher which is against the rules because he is a married man.

As Mr. Kim reports the love letter he received to the faculty, the young woman is suspended for three days.  But the shame of being jilted by the man she loves, she quits the school.  Her roommate and friend, goes to Mr. Kim’s residence and we see how his wife has been working hard sewing clothing and helping make money for the family to move into a much bigger home.

In fact, Mr. Kim and the family really need the money to help pay for their new home, his new piano and while they have two children, their daughter is also disabled.  So, he hopes to make extra money through giving piano lessons.

But as the family gets accustomed to their new home, when Mrs. Kim sees a rat in the cupboard, she screams and nearly collapses.  She explains to Dong-sik that she is fatigued and exhausted and Dong-sik learns that they have another baby coming along the way, Mr. Kim wants to alleviate his wife from any pain she is having by hiring a maid.  So, he asks his piano student (portrayed by Um Aing-ran) if he knows a woman who will be a maid and we learn that she does.

The piano student asks a woman that if she becomes a maid, she would make a certain amount but she would have to get a cut from it.

And when the two head to the Kim’s home, they come to a home where Mr. Kim and the children have just cooked Mrs. Kim some curry to make her feel better.  Immediately, the piano student wants to eat some while the woman who would be hired as a maid starts going through the kitchen cabinets and sees a rat. But instead of screaming or flinching, she grabs the rat by its tail and begins smashing it on the floor.

And as Dong-sik hires the woman to be a maid, we start to see how the maid (portrayed by Lee Eun-shim) tries to sneak into the living room to play piano when the family is gone.

The piano student meanwhile learns that her roommate, the one that felt disgraced for telling her teacher that she loved him, has died from her complications of the stress endured for her humiliation.  Feeling terrible, Dong-sik accompanies his student to her funeral.  And as the two feel bad about what has happened to the young woman, the piano student tells Dong-sik that she wants to play the piano to get her mind off things.  But as he tries to teach her, she tries to make her moves on the piano teacher and he dismisses her actions, the student rips off her shirt and tries to blackmail the teacher and tells him that she will tell his employers that he tried to rape her and get him fired.  Dong-sik slaps her but as she continues with talk about blackmail, he realizes that he needs money and he tells the student that despite what has happened, he still wants to teach her piano lessons.

Meanwhile, the maid has heard everything that has happened and threatens Dong-sik by blackmailing him.  Knowing he needs the money and can’t afford to lose his job, she strips and forces him to touch her body and hold her.  We watch as Dong-sik complies and with a bolt of lightning strikes the tree, we know that the two had sex.

The result of the one-night stand has led to the maid getting pregnant and she becomes fixated in Dong-sik.  Feeling the guilt of what he has done, Dong-sik decides to tell his wife of what has happened and she understandably gets upset, but fearing how the maid’s pregnancy can destroy the family, she tells the maid that she must lose the baby and that she must fall off the stairs in order to abort the baby.

As the maid complies and loses the baby, meanwhile Mrs. Kim has a baby which causes the maid to become jealous.  So, much that she comes into their room and threatens to kill their baby.  But as they stop her, the couple knows they can’t kick her out because of their actions of forcing her to lose the baby.  So, they keep her at the home.

And the more the maid sees the Kim family so happy with their newborn, the more she becomes unstable and wanting to destroy them.

 

VIDEO:

“The Housemaid” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:60:1), black and white.  While the majority of the film looks good and offers better contrast and sharpness with the grays and whites, especially nice deep blacks.  For the missing two reels that were added, there is a quality difference that is noticeable as the missing reels added to the film aren’t just as clear.  Fortunately, these two reels were found and were included to the film to make it complete.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The Housemaid” was “created in high definition on an ARRISCAN film scanner by the Korean Film Archive, with the support of the World Cinema Project, from the original camera negative, which was found in 1982, though reels 5 and 8 were missing.  In order to complete the restoration, a rare original release print found in 1990 was used to fill in the missing footage.  The release print had handwritten English subtitles that occupied almost half of the frame area, and the print itself had sustained heavy damage.  The long and complex restoration process has involved flicker and grain reduction, scratch and dust removal, color grading and the use of a special subtitle-removal software.  It as completed at the HFR-Digital Film Laboratory in Seoul in May 2008.

AUDIO:

“The Housemaid” is presented in Korean LPCM 1.0 with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and I didn’t notice any significant hiss, crackle or any major issues with audio during my viewing of the film.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Housemaid” (as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”) – The Criterion Collection #690″ comes with the following special features:

  • Martin Scorsese – (2:17) Filmmaker Martin Scorsese talks about watching “The Housemaid”.
  • Bong Joon-Ho on the Housemaid – (15:03) A Criterion Collection 2013 featurette featuring filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho discussing “The Housemaid”.

EXTRAS:

“Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project – The Criterion Collection #685-690″ comes with a 66-page booklet featuring the following essays: “Recalled to Life” a foreword by Kent Jones, “Mambety and Modernity” by Richard Porton on “Touki Bouki”, “El cine mexicano” by Charles Ramirez on “Redes”, “River of No Return” by Adrian Martin on “A River Called Titas”, “The Law of Nature” by Bilge Ebiri on “Dry Summer”, “Power to the People” by Sally Shafto on “Trances” and “Crossing Borders” by Kyung Hyun Kim on “The Housemaid”. Each Blu-ray and DVD are housed in cases that come with a slipcase.

Kim Ji-young’s “The Housemaid” was an unnerving, frightful film back in 1960.

One can easily call it the “Fatal Attraction” of South Korea, the film is considered one of the greatest Korean films ever made and it all comes down to pacing, the use of tracking shots to show one happens in one room and what happens in another.  The careful placement of a character to showcase sexual attraction and fatal attraction, “The Housemaid” was eerily creepy as it was a film that took a hardworking, good Korean family and by bringing a young maid into the picture who is poised to destroy the family by conquering the family patriarch is very fascinating.

Kim Jin Kyu plays the strong male character, a piano teacher that the women swoon over but he’s a happily married man that does not like his female students hitting on him.  The first woman, he reports.  The second woman, becomes his piano student, while the third is the maid brought by the student to work at his home.

Lee Eun-shim’s character as the maid was very fascinating because she was not a woman in traditional Korean outfits.  She was stylish in the 1960’s and no doubt a femme fatale character that could appear in today’s films and people would think her style is quite modern.  Beautiful, sexy but also eerie.

By the time she moves into the home of the Kim family, just within the first several minutes, she catches a rat by her hand and smashes it. When she overhears the piano student making threats that she’ll cry rape since the teacher refuses her advances, the maid uses that as a way to get what she wants and that is Mr. Kim.  Using blackmail, she forces him to seduce her.

And what a sexy scene that Kim Ki-young brings to the film, with him putting his hands on the naked housemaid, a scene of her stepping on his shoes and a bolt of lightning striking down the tree to show that the two made love.

But from that moment on, things get worse when the maid gets pregnant and when she tells Mr. Kim about it, he tells his wife, who has the maid throw herself on the stairs to abort the baby.  But while the maid’s baby dies, Mrs. Kim announces that she is pregnant and the Housemaid goes into psycho mode, literally taking the family hostage and having them obey her wishes as she uses threats to ruin the family and Mr. Kim’s career.

While it’s ending may seem a bit of campy for today’s audiences, especially those who are familiar with the 2010 film which is more horror, creepy and bloody, the 1960 version has so much going on that you can’t believe this South Korean film was ever made during the 1960’s.  Fortunately, the film was able to be made during the transitional government of Korea 1960, but for it to show violence against a family, the sexuality of the film and its shock value for its time, because of its bold nature, Kim Ki-young’s breakthrough film would become a major influence due to its storyline but most importantly the way the film was directed and how scenes were carefully planned.

It’s a melodrama that really captivates you due to its unnerving storyline and I can only imagine how this film went over with audiences back in 1960.

The film also marks a time when Korea was going through changes and the class structure of who is successful or wealthy became a part of culture but also women looking for a role in society to earn money for their family.  The women depicted in the film are working in factories, the mother of children earns money by sewing, etc. and how a middle-class family is able to take in a maid.  A difference between this film and the 2010 Im Sang-soo film which takes the family out of the middle class and makes them wealthy.

And because it was a time where people were becoming per-occupied with becoming successful, many may wonder why would a man let things spiral so out of control within his family for the fear of losing his job.  And unlike today’s society where people can quit or get fired from a job to work at another similar or different position, in Asia, people carry their occupation as a form of respect.  And for the character of Dong-sik Kim, with a family, a child who is disabled, a new home, piano and trying to have that lifestyle of being “successful”, it’s the moral issue of placing moral status too high and the family becoming trapped in their situation.

With the release of the film as part of “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”, this is the version that features the two reels that were originally lost.  A restoration that required the eliminated of the English subtitles from the two reels that were found and it was an arduous process that required quite a bit of funding and also the use of scientists to devise a program to help eliminate any blemishes left by the removal of the subtitles.

Special features include a comment from Martin Scorsese about the film and its restoration but also an interview with Bong Joon-ho, a director who discovered Kim Ki-young films during the ’90s and how the director influenced him as a director and how using the “dark morality” factor in his films (which include “The Host”, “Mother”, “Memories of Murder” and most recently “Snowpiercer”).

So, “The Housemaid” is one of the major challenges that the Korean Film Archive had faced in restoration and also giving exposure to the films of Kim Ki-young to a worldwide audience in 2013 and one can only hope that Criterion considers releasing more Ki-young films in the very near future.

If you enjoy films such as “Fatal Attraction” or want to experience a dark Korean ’60s melodrama, “The Housemaid” is an enjoyable film which has earned its reputation as one of the greatest Korean films ever made.  Kim Ki-young’s “The Maid” is a wonderful addition to the Criterion Collection’s “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project”!

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