Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sex 'n sin for the arthouse set: Im Sang-Soo's remake of THE HOUSEMAID opens

Ooooh, mama -- is this one ever fun! TrustMovies admits to never having seen Kim Ki-young's 1960 original, which is said to be by far the superior version of this tale of a pretty young woman who goes to work for a wealthy Korean family as its housemaid and the complications that thereafter ensue. Consequently, he will concentrate only on what he saw before him on-screen in the very sexy, very nasty, very gorgeous remake, called once again THE HOUSEMAID and this time adapted (from Mr. Kim's original screenplay) and directed by Im Sang-soo (shown below). For its stunning and sensual visuals alone, the movie is definitely worth seeing -- and on the big screen.

The Housemaid is a melodrama told with broad strokes of character and event, even as it deals with issues of class and of the use and abuse of the have-nots by the haves. That the have-not in question -- the young woman who takes the job of housemaid -- is complicit in her own mis-use is both pertinent and beside the point. Once she accepts the position, she is powerless to do anything about what happens, short of leaving of her own volition or being fired. And once she capitulates to the off-the-menu demands of her employers, the woman's fate is sealed. Her understanding of all this, when it finally comes, is what leads to one hell of a wham-bam, knockout finale.

There is so much to enjoy about this film, admittedly in the manner of a somewhat guilty pleasure, that the movie must be recommended. Starting with the incredible lensing by Lee Hyung Deok, whether in bright daylight or noirish shadow, continuing on to the amazing house that provides the set of much of the movie, and finally to the spot-on editing of Lee Eun Soo that brings all this together -- your eye is constantly delighted by the wonders dancing before it. (That the movie is from South Korea -- home to some of the lengthiest genre films ever made -- and yet is only 106 minutes long, is another plus.)

Sure, we're easily dazzled by how the other half lives, but unlike those "real" housewives of NY, DC, NJ and Beverly Hills, the folk on view here appear to have taste as impeccable as their understanding of the rights-of-others is nonexistent.

Performances, too, are first-rate -- within the oddly broad-yet-narrow range required for melodrama. Looking the part is two-thirds of the battle, and Mr. Im has assembled quite a provocative cast. In the role of the housemaid,  Jeon Do-yeon, above and on poster, top, is perfection. No raving beauty, this actress is still quite pretty, sexy and able to do and be, it would seem, anything that is asked of her. Compare her performance here to her award-winning one in the recently-released Secret Sunshine, and you'll see what I mean. Then check out Untold Scandal, the sumptuous Korean version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses from 2003 to see even more of the range of this unusual actress.

Her leading man, Lee Jung-Jae (from Il Mare, Typhoon and The Accidental Gangster) is one of the sexiest performers to hit the screen in decades. I can't vouch for his acting ability, having seen him only in this one and in Il Mare (the original upon which a silly, sodden The Lake House was based), but Mr. Lee has the ability to hold you fast simply by placing his more-than-impressive body on the screen in all its lithe yet massive stillness. He and his director use quiet remarkably well. They insist that his co-star (not to mention the viewer) come to him willingly and service him properly. The actor's ability to radiate privilege and entitlement should have you eating out of his hand (if not other protuberances) at the same time as you despise him.

The remaining characters are equally well-defined and acted, from the pliable wife (bathing, at left) to the icy, steel-trap mother-in-law; from the older, seen-it-all, if not done-it-all, maid (above) to even the charming little sleaze-in-training child of the household. They'll all combine to give you a memorably despicable and terribly enjoyable time at the movies.

The Housemaid, from IFC Films, opens this Friday, January 21, at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.  As with most film from IFC that open theatrically, it will also be available via IFC On-Demand, be-ginning Jan. 26.  Click here to determine how to get it in your home.

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