Review: "하녀 (The Housemaid)"
I was not let down. The pace was glacial compared to what I'm used to with mainstream Hollwood fare. There was also much less dialogue, though fortunately no intercut scenes of people staring at one another. However, the easy-to-understand plot and moments of humour helped to make the film very watchable, even for one who doesn't normally watch Korean shows. (The last Korean movie I watched is "Sex is Zero", if that means anything about what I know about Korean film.)
The film tells the story of a young and attractive housemaid who sleeps with the man of the house, resulting in dark consequences for her and the family. Apparently, this is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. Not having seen the original, I can only judge this modern interpretation of "The Housemaid" on its own.
As the sweet but naive housemaid, Jeon Do-yeon was believable in everything she did, from the way she fawned over the young daughter to her performing of the household chores. I could really feel pity for her when she succumbed to temptation. It's too bad then that the ending was both sudden and a headscratcher. After two hours of playing a traumatized young woman, we were left without seeing her really descend into her madness and subsequent tragic end, and instead "treated" to a 10-minute wrap-up.
On the other hand, I thought that almost all of the characters were plastic. Especially the wife of the family. She was written as very black-and-white. Her mother was supposed to be like an evil witch, but she came across as whiny. And the husband was, I guess, like any Korean man -- manly and detached. The use of money was also too convenient, which resulted in the lack of emotional depth in the story.
The only stand-out actress was Yun Yeo-Jong, who played the senior housemaid. We could see her journey from haughty "elder stateswoman" to a somewhat grandmotherly figure. She was also the one who was responsible for injecting most of the humour into this dark film. Her one nude scene had the amusing effect of making the audience cringe.
One thing that I was confused about had nothing to do with the film itself, but with its rating. For some reason, the Singapore Board of Censorship had slapped it with a R21 rating. However, there was only about five minutes' worth of nudity. The one sex scene was filmed in such close-up that you could only see the waist/butt area of both characters. There was no homosexuality, which in Singapore means an automatic R21 rating. Unless the censors count the scene where two women share a bed as homosexuality, which I regard as two people who have no choice but to share a bed because of their cramped one-room apartment. So I'm curious to know what warranted the R21 rating.
The rating aside, I'd say that this is an enjoyable movie if you're new to Korean films. The plot isn't too convincing, the actors are easy on the eyes, and the cinematography is gorgeous. But be prepared to squirm in your seat as you wonder when the pace will pick up (hint: it doesn't).