Manipulation, infidelity, desire and betrayal are all themes explored in Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 film from South Korea, The Housemaid (Hanyo.)
The original negative of the film was restored by the World Cinema Project, an organization with the mission to preserve films with cultural and cinematic significance, and the Korean Film Archive.
The original negative was missing two reels and, after being combined with another print found in 1990, was released two years after the restoration process started. There is also a remake of the film from 2010 with Kim Ki-Young as the writer working with a different director, Song-soo Im. Young both wrote and directed the original film, referenced in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as a marvelous discovery in film history.
The story centers on a couple in Korea in need of a maid to help care for their house and two children. The mother in the family, Mrs. Kim, is pregnant with their third child and is at first hesitant to have a maid there in fear it will be temptation for her husband, Dong-sik Kim to cheat.
Dong-sik is a piano teacher, often pursued by his female students, but the temptation of a younger woman doesn’t become real until they do hire a maid, Myong-sook, to help.
The temptation escalates solely because of Myong-sook’s obsessive and controlling behavior during the course of the film. It’s clear from the beginning she has deep desire to be more a part of the Kim family than a maid and will go to all lengths to take over the home and get what she wants.
The build to reveal her true character is slow in this suspense-thriller that uses its musical score to exemplify that something terrifying will happen at any moment.
The film’s visual style is complex with high angle and exterior shots through windows and doors that define the feeling you are looking in on a family’s secrets and struggles they don’t want anyone to know about. Dong-sik, at many points in the story, threatened to tell the police about Myong-sook’s obsessive and ultimately violent behavior toward the family but she, or even his own wife, influenced him not to act on his instincts.
The Housemaid is a haunting and beautiful story that delivers on the fact that something bad will happen, on many occasions, and goes full circle in exploring the idea of the problems temptation causes when put against people’s human instincts versus doing the right thing.