Korean film explores employee and employer relationship

Movie Review: “The Housemaid,” Korean with English subtitles, Directed by Im Sang-soo, 2010, 106 minutes

The essential relationship between employee and employer is explored in this outstanding allegory/soap opera. At the soap opera level, it’s very well done and involves its audience completely, including both my more discriminating movie buddy and me.

At the allegory level, it’s a very meaningful film.

 A charming and warm-hearted young woman is employed by a super-rich family as a nanny and maid. During the day, they treat her quite civilly, but at night she is quickly seduced by the charming young father. Before very long, the entire family is involved in shameful cover-ups and crimes ranging from simple libel to attempted murder.

 Jeon Do-yeon, who plays the housemaid, conveys a very sympathetic warmth and naiveté throughout the film, but her role is upstaged by Byeong-sik, a much older and more experienced servant with a clear view of the rich family and its dealings with others. “Nothing happens in this house without my knowing,” she explains to her youthful co-worker. While the young housemaid is sweet and pleasant beginning to end, the older actress carries us through her transformation from a silent and stoic observer into a raging participant. Her performance alone is worth the price of a movie ticket.

 If you admire moviemaking style, be sure to catch the first scene. It shows a busy intersection with a number of people routinely carrying out what’s important to them at the time, including the nameless young suicide jumping off a building.

 The 2010 version is a re-make from 1960, but the story is entirely different. In the older version, the employee was the predator. Especially in these times of attacks on workers, the newer version seems much more realistic.