Wednesday, November 13, 2013

#690: The Housemaid

(Kim Ki-Young, 1960)

The Housemaid is a strange convergence of cultures. The film is vaguely erotic but structured like a morality tale. It's got plenty of the outrageous melodrama that Korean films have come to be known for in the modern era but it also has subtle moments of psychological intrigue and complex emotion. The movie's jazz soundtrack is reminiscent of Western films of the era (Criterion movies like Elevator to the Gallows and Anatomy of a Murder spring to mind) but the aesthetic and technique of the film is notably more Asian.

All these battling elements might make for a total mess of a film, but The Housemaid is a pretty tight ship. In fact, what makes the film so good - and, I would guess, so highly regarded - isn't that it is an especially remarkable story or tells such an impressive story (really, it does neither) but simply that it's executed so well. The way the story is told is rather cunning, and I was left guessing even who the housemaid would be early in the film, and then how the husband would extricate himself from the situation as the climax approached.

One thing that is especially interesting about The Housemaid, particularly in the context of this boxset, is that the film was so clearly a product of a studio system that mirrored Hollywood. Obviously there are elements here that wouldn't work in the US (the ending standing out as a clear example), but the way the film is presented and structured is obviously professional and somewhat workmanlike, a clear style that separates studio work from something like Touki Bouki, which was so obviously the work of an artist, or Redes, which clearly developed outside of an assembly-line mentality. It's a reminder that even if the US has the towering center of commercial film, there are plenty of studios spread out across the globe that are producing film with the same balancing act between art and commerce. Often one can learn just as much about a culture from what they produce when money is on the line than from what they do for the love of it. The Housemaid is an excellent example of this, and it makes a fine addition to the Collection and this box.

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