|Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid (1960)|
Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (1960), perhaps the greatest Korean film ever made, appeared on the scene during a unique time in Korean cultural and political history. This was the thaw that occurred between the 1960 overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Rhee Syng-man and the 1961 coup that brought Park Chung-hee to power (his daughter, Park Geun-hi, is South Korea’s current president). There was a great artistic flowering during this brief liberal interlude and Korean cinema experienced something of a golden age, of which Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid is perhaps the best representative.
The film follows a wicked young femme fatale as she insinuates herself into the middle-class household of an unassuming piano teacher, whom she sets about seducing. The film is gloriously moody and atmospheric (and sexist as all fuck, but one has to look past that). Its place in Korean cinema is so iconic that the challenge of remaking it—and remaking it well—would seem to be quite daunting (although this is really the challenge of all remakes, which so rarely justify themselves). It would be comparable, in an American context, to remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which Gus Van Sant inexplicably did in 1998, to disastrous results. But in 2010, on the fiftieth anniversary of Kim Ki-young’s film, Korean filmmaker Im Sang-soo rose to the occasion.
Now, Im has a mixed track record, based on the three films of his that have been released in the United States. There’s 2005’s controversial The President’s Last Bang, about the 1979 assassination of the abovementioned Park Chung-hee, which doesn’t know if it wants to play itself as dark comedy or political thriller and largely fails at both. Then there’s 2010’s The Housemaid, which I’ll discuss in just a moment. And finally there’s 2012 evil rich people sleaze-fest The Taste of Money, which was the big flop of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, but which I enjoyed well enough. The Taste of Money knows exactly what it wants to be: a vicious satire on 21st-century plutocratic capitalism, just as applicable in Korea as in the United States.
|Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid (2010)|