Housemaid, The

Director: Kim Ki-young

1960. English subtitles. Black and white. 90 min.

A consensus pick as one of the top three Korean films of all time, Kim Ki-young’s masterpiece The Housemaid is a domestic thriller that builds in intensity right up until its startling resolution. It tells of a traditional four-member family which has just moved into a two-story home. The husband Dong-shik teaches music to women factory workers, while his wife spends her days at home at the sewing machine. One day she breaks down from overwork, and Dong-shik asks one of his students to find him a housemaid. However, the maid they hire acts in strange and unpredictable ways. Soon an incident occurs which motivates her to plot a dreadful revenge, and the Confucian order of the household comes crashing down at the hands of the surreptitious housemaid. Asian cinema, and melodrama in particular, tends to portray the family as the most basic building block of society. Kim’s somewhat twisted cinematic vision focuses on how the supposedly stable family unit comes apart under pressure.

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