This copy of The Housemaid was restored digitally by the Korean Film Archive with the support of the World Cinema Foundation. It is distributed by Cineteca di Bologna.
The Housemaid is a highly acclaimed Korean film. Set in patriarchal Korea in the 1960s, it is a domestic horror-thriller that follows the destruction of a family when a dominant female character is introduced into their peaceful and loving home.
Dong-shik, a piano teacher, hires a housemaid to look after his two children and to take care of the household chores to ease the burden on his pregnant wife. But the femme fatale soon tears the family apart from within. She seduces Dong-shik with her feminine charms, terrorises the whole family and makes their lives a living nightmare. Will the family’s attempts at restoring order in the household succeed? Or will the housemaid establish herself as the new master?
The release of The Housemaid in 1960 called into question many of the fundamental gender roles that were in place in the deeply patriarchal Korean society of that time. It was understood and unquestioned that the male was the leader of the family. But by showing the male lead to be weaker and sometimes even subservient to the female lead, the film’s depiction effectively reverses the traditional gender roles.
Though Dong-shik starts out as the dominant player in and out of the family, his sexual transgression overturns this dominance. It causes Dong-shik to become subservient to the women in his life as they start controlling his every move. This reversal in power relations brought about by an act of adultery exposes the fragility of masculinity. It proves that though men are said to be the stronger sex, the temptation and desire that female sexuality can create in them, may prove to be men’s greatest weakness.