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The Essentials: The Housemaid (1960)

A composer and his wife are thrown into turmoil when a housemaid becomes more than they bargained for.
(NR, 108 min.)
Original title: Hanyo


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

7:00 PM

This monthly series showcases essential films everyone should see on the big screen.
The Essentials series is Free for Members.

A torrent of sexual obsession, revenge, and betrayal is unleashed under one roof in this venomous melodrama from South Korean master Kim Ki-young. Immensely popular in its home country when it was released, The Housemaid is the thrilling, at times jaw-dropping story of the devastating effect an unstable housemaid has on the domestic cocoon of a bourgeois, morally dubious music teacher, his devoted wife, and their precocious young children. Grim and taut yet perched on the border of the absurd, Kim’s film is an engrossing tale of class warfare and familial disintegration that has been hugely influential on the new generation of South Korean filmmakers. [Janus]

Starring: Jin Kyu Kim, Jeung-nyeo Ju, Eun-shim Lee
Director: Kim Ki-young
Languages: Korean
Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

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"It is beautifully shot, with impeccable acting and visual detail."

— Lisa Schwarzbaum, New York Post

"Kim's is a bleak, Nietzschean view of human motivation, and the whole, with its jazz-score, location shooting, hot-house Sirkian drama and Clouseau-like horror suspense makes for a notably delirious experience."

— Wally Hammond, Time Out

"The sensual imagery and unsettling mood of the film certainly grant itself the legendary status of being one of the best Korean films ever made. It also pioneered the Korean thriller and erotic cinema that influenced the next generation of Korean directors."

— Samuel Lo,

"Formally quite radical, the film jumps perspectives, breaks the fourth wall, and just generally disregards conventional rules of storytelling. And it's all the more exciting for this restless, near-baroque approach to narrative, a impulse that wouldn't reach the States for a number of years..."

— Jordan Cronk, Slant

"The Housemaid," a 1960 Korean film from Kim Ki-Young, is the film of the set most like a Hollywood production, though if it mostly plays by Western genre rules, the film that results is, if anything, more sophisticated and daring than anything a major Hollywood studio would have allowed at the time."

— Jake Cole,

"Kim ironizes South Korea’s consumerism with blunt, at times outrageous wit, as Bong does. And like Bong’s prize-winner, Kim’s masterpiece evinces moral ambivalence: a fallen husband too eager to purge his guilt, a wife whose self-abnegation makes her—depending on how you see her—a martyr or a despot."

— Ela Bittencourt, Mubi

"1960's The Housemaid reappeared out of nowhere about a decade ago and revealed its director, Kim Ki-Young, as a forgotten visionary, with a style aptly described as Sirk on acid. To reveal much about this movie's demented, absurdist plot would be a disservice, as it's the kind of thing best experienced cold."

— Mike D'Angelo, AV Club