Frequently named as one of the best Korean films of all time, Kim Ki-Young’s The Housemaid tells a tempestuous story of family values, betrayal and repressed sexuality. An earnest composer and choirmaster, seeing his wife exhausted by her work as a seamstress, asks one of his students to arrange for a housemaid to come round occasionally. Mere moments after her entrance, the young maid raises more than a few eyebrows with her dotty behaviour, and suspicions are soon confirmed when she blackmails the composer into sex. After discovering she is pregnant by him, her behaviour becomes increasingly sinister, manipulating the entire family into pandering to her twisted desires until each member completely breaks down.
While it’s not the most uplifting experience, The Housemaid is an exceptional find, simultaneously applying Hitchcock’s Freudian undercurrents, Douglas Sirk’s woozy melodrama and Yasuzo Masumura’s breathy sensuality. Perhaps it is too over-stimulated by its cinematic successors, but it nonetheless feels new, even watching it almost fifty years after its release (the West’s first exposure to the film was in the late nineties). The character of the maid is one of film history’s best and most effective female villains, a precocious femme fatale well versed in the callous practice of sexual blackmail, a woman with absolutely no compassion. Her first seduction of the composer is an unforgettable scene, her body easily overpowering his despite her comparative daintiness. Some may grimace at the breaking of the fourth wall, but this does nothing to hamper the film’s disturbing impact.