The Housemaid

Released:  1960

Cast:  Lee Eun-shim, Ju Jeung-nyeo, Kim Jin Kyu

SUMMARY:  Music teacher Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin Kyu) has just moved into a new, two-story house with his wife (Ju Jeung-ryu) and two children, Aesoon and Changsoon.  In addition to offering piano lessons, Kim teaches a music class to female workers at a mill.  His salary is still not enough to cover the bills, so his pregnant wife takes in sewing.  One day, Kim receives a note from one of the mill workers, stating that she is in love with him.  When her supervisor learns of the letter, the girl is suspended.  Her closest friend, Miss Cho, stays in touch with her, and also begins taking piano lessons from Kim.  When Mrs. Kim decides that she can no longer handle all the household chores by herself, Kim agrees to hire a housemaid.  Cho recommends her new roommate, Myung-Sook (Lee Eun-shim), who is quickly hired.  At first, the housemaid seems to be somewhat dim-witted and behaves very strangely — she is fascinated by a rat she finds in the kitchen, and catches it with her bare hands.  The Kim children take an immediate dislike to their new maid, but they love Cho, who continues her lessons.  However, she eventually confesses that it was she who loved Kim:  she convinced her friend to write the letter for her.  After this, the piano lessons stop.  Around the same time, Mrs. Kim and the children go to stay with her parents for a time, so that she can recuperate somewhat.  While they are gone the housemaid takes advantage of Kim’s vulnerable emotional state and seduces him.

Sometime later, Mrs. Kim and the children return home — and the housemaid realizes that she is pregnant.  Mrs. Kim is crushed when she finds out about the brief affair (which only lasted the one night), but realizes that if the news gets out her husband will lose his job.  She convinces the housemaid to throw herself down the steps and cause a miscarriage (though after the doctors visit Mrs. Kim refers to it as an abortion, so I’m not sure about what really happened).  Mrs. Kim has to take over the household chores and care for the housemaid (who has no family) as she recovers, as well.  One day she goes into labor, and delivers a second son.  Though she claims to still be bleeding, the housemaid starts wandering through the house, and her strange behavior amplifies.  She tricks Changsoon into thinking that he has drunk poison; in his panic, the boy falls down the stairs and dies.  Kim wants to call in the police, but the housemaid threatens to reveal their affair and her illegitimate child if he does (which, again, would ruin the family).  The housemaid then virtually changes positions with Mrs. Kim:  she insists on being treated as the “wife”, while Mrs. Kim is forced into acting like the maid.  Unwilling to jeopardize his career and remaining family, Kim gives in to her demands.  Both Mrs. Kim and Aesoon try to poison the housemaid, but are caught.  Things come to a head when Kim has had enough and tries to strangle the housemaid.  He does not kill her, but she asks him to drink poison with her, thus ending their lives together.  Kim sees no way of escaping the situation, and agrees.  However, after both drink the poison he insists on dying by his wife’s side, and drags himself downstairs.  The housemaid follows him, and dies on the stairs, but Kim manages to make his way to his wife and apologize before dying.  The entire story is then revealed to be one read out of a newspaper by Mr. Kim, who then addresses the audience.  He tells them that the story just portrayed could happen to any man, in any home.

MY TAKE:  I think this is the earlier, Korean version of Fatal Attraction.  In both cases, men in a seemingly happy marriage have a one-night stand with a woman they know little about — only to have her nearly (or in this case, actually) destroy their lives.  Obviously, it is a bad idea to cheat on your wife, but it’s a really bad idea to cheat on your wife with a woman who completely nutso.  Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what Kim (who manages to have three women in love with him at the same time) saw in the housemaid.  When a woman catches a rat with her bare hands, and just stands there looking at it, it suggests that she’s not playing with a full deck.  She was just creepy.  Naturally, she only went crazier as things went on, and basically took over the house.  I also couldn’t figure out why none of the family members just sucked it up and told somebody what was going on — losing the job/reputation has got to be better than living in constant fear.  I thought Mrs. Kim should have left with the children, and Mr. Kim should have bitten the bullet and taken his lumps.  The interesting thing about this film was that it takes place almost entirely within the house, and mainly in a couple of rooms.  This creates a claustrophobic feeling, which adds to the tension.  The housemaid also has a habit of popping up and staring through glass windows at people.  The amount of unease and uncertainty that are created are admirable, but for me it was overshadowed by the unexplainable actions of the family.  Maybe this was a cultural thing, but I just couldn’t get past their acceptance of a terrible situation.

RATING:  Not bad.

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