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The Housemaid

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The Housemaid

Sponsored by: CinéAsie & Korean Film Council
  • South Korea 1960
  • 110 min
  • 35mm
  • Korean with English subtitles
Restored 35mm print


DramaCrime / ThrillerClassic/Retro

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Director: Kim Ki-young
Screenplay: Kim Ki-young
Cast: Lee Eun-sim, Joo Jeung-nyeo, Kim Jin-kyu
Producers: Kim Young-chul
Print Source: World Cinema Foundation

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Korean Cinema   

Korean Cinema



Dong-sik teaches music at a textile factory and shows particular interest in an article about a murder that occurred in Geumcheon. One day, Dong-sik receives a love letter from a female factory worker named Seon-yeong. He reports this fact to the factory dormitory supervisor, and Seon-yeong is forced to leave her job. Meanwhile, her friend Gyeong-hui begins frequenting Dong-sik’s new house on the pretext of receiving piano lessons. When his wife’s health begins to decline, Dong-sik asks Gyeong-hui to recommend a good housemaid. While Dong-sik’s wife is away visiting her family, Gyeong-hui confesses to him that she is in love with him, only to be run out of the house. The housemaid, who had been watching secretly from outside the window, seduces Dong-sik. Three months later, she is pregnant. A maelstrom of psychological manipulation, self-destruction and sexual predation has been unleashed on the household.

At Cannes this past May, one film of particular note was the remake of THE HOUSEMAID by Im Sang-soo, featuring top Korean stars Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Jeong-jae. The original black-and-white film was made in 1960 by the notorious director Kim Ki-young, who perished with his wife in a tragic fire in February, 1998. “I made a set for the two-story house,” Kim was quoted as saying, “which I thought to be a miniature of the world. I made all accessories and furniture for the film on my own, and I worked especially hard on lighting. Viewers of the film praised the beautiful scenes, and asked me what the secret was. However, I did not readily give the answer.” The film was restored as new 35mm print by the Korean Film Archive in 2008 and has been preserved by the World Cinema Foundation, of which Martin Scorsese is the founder. Scorsese himself called Kim’s THE HOUSEMAID “one of the true classics of South Korean cinema,” and added, “When I finally had the opportunity to see the picture, I was startled. That this intensely, even passionately claustrophobic film is known only to the most devoted film lovers in the west is one of the great accidents of film history.” Noted French film critic and historian Jean-Michel Frodon of Cahier du Cinema, meanwhile, said, “The discovery of a film like THE HOUSEMAID, more than 40 years after it was made, is a marvelous feeling—marvelous not just because one finds in writer-director Kim Ki-young a truly extraordinary image-maker, but in that his film such an utterly unpredictable work. So Luis Buñuel had a Korean brother!”

—Mi-jeong Lee

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