Monday, 10 May 2021

The Housemaid [Hanyo] (1960)

I've been getting back to Korean cinema releases and this one caught my eye from way back in 1960. Directed by the late and very experienced Ki-young Kim. I like what I see here and will certainly be looking out for more from the back-catalogue of films that he has written, produced and directed in Korea such as Goryeojang (1963), A Defiance of Teenager (1959) and The Asphalt Pavement (1964).

This film was shot in black and white and I was able to see a restored version of it as it seems that the original was rather the worse for wear! It was remade in 2010 by Sang-soo Im, so I'd really like to try and get hold of a copy of that to compare with this work.

The story is a thriller set in 1960's Korea and is centred around a Mr Kim who is a music teacher employed by a factory in order to provide cultural, educational and recreational activities for the workers. Seems like that was a thing in that culture, at least back then if not now. He received a letter from one of the student/employees declaring her love for him even though knowing that he was married with two children. He reports the matter to the authorities and the girl is suspended for 3 days under company rules. She is so upset by all this that she goes off and kills herself.

Turns out that it wasn't her after all but one of our main players, Miss Cho, using her friend as a go-between. She works her way into Mr Kim's household under the 'guise of paying him for piano lessons, the money for which the family really need. Mrs Kim is worn out making ends meet and eventually collapses. They decide to take on a maid to help out and ask Miss Cho if she knows anyone. She drums up a young apprentice, Myung-Sook, from the factory looking for a better opportunity and she duly moves in.

This is where the fun begins because Myung-Sook is a bit of a fruit-loop and it seems will do pretty much anything to get what she wants and to better herself. She eventually seduces Mr Kim and gets pregnant. The pragmatic Mrs Kim when she finds out tries to smooth things over but eventually realises that diplomacy ain't going to work and things take a turn for the sinister. The main players at this point, including the two children start to behave in shocking ways to fix the problem and to fuel their desires for different outcomes. It turns very Hitchockian all of a sudden and there are chills and thrills aplenty!

The acting by all parties is a bit wooden by today's standards but the content of the story and the way in which the thrills and chills are delivered in the atmospheric black and white often made the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. I can only imagine that the cinema-going audience of the day were on the edge of their seats, wide-eyed, wondering what on earth was coming next! It's not gory or violent - in fact much of the 'action' is perceived and off-camera, but it had that Hitchcock element of suspense and terror lurking around most of the time.

I really enjoyed this (in fact it was fabulous) and would highly recommend it, so keep an eye open for it on one of the film streaming channels if you don't want to track down a DVD. You won't be disappointed as long as you remember when and where it was made and the cultural background present.

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