Eun-yi Li (Do-yeon Jeon) has just started working at the home of a fabulously wealthy family, primarily to look after their young daughter, Nami (Seo-Hyeon Ahn), with whom she begins to develop an understanding friendship, but she will also take responsibility for the imminent new arrivals to the household – a pair of twins. Eun-yi works closely with the senior housekeeper Byung-sik (Yeo-jeong Yoon), also known as Miss Cho, who has been with the family for many years and knows exactly how the household should run. Husband Hoon Goh (Jung-Jae Lee) flirts with Eun-yi and before long they embark on a passionate secret affair. However, nothing escapes Miss Cho’s notice and she soon drops hints about the affair to Hoon’s mother-in-law. Things take a turn for the worse when Eun-yi becomes pregnant. The wife and her mother decide to take matters into their own hands. Desperate to keep the family together and maintain their luxurious lifestyle, how long can it be before everything falls apart for everyone?
A remake of Kim Ki-yoon’s 1960 thriller, the 2010 version rolls along at a very steady pace and constructs its story in a considered and measured way. Whereas in the original the housemaid, the stranger to the family, was the sexually aggressive character, Eun-yi is here depicted as rather humble. She desperately wishes to get to know Nami better and is looking forward to looking after the twins. She is obedient and compliant and follows instructions perfectly to ensure the smooth running of the house. It is husband Hoon who is the predator and makes all the advances. That is not to say that Eun-yi is an unwilling participant in their illicit affair, only that she is powerless to do anything about her situation. As such, class becomes a dominant theme. The family are entirely bourgeois, as we are reminded by Hoon’s remarkable talent for playing the piano and the notable collection of fine wines he quaffs at every opportunity. While Hoon is revealed not to be a total cad, but the same cannot be said for his scheming mother in law. As far as she is concerned everything can be solved with the application of large amounts of cash, or a hefty dose of subterfuge.
Despite a number of shocking plot devices – poisoning, assault, the inevitable need for a grand conclusion – this film is surprisingly underplayed despite the highly charged erotic scenes which pepper the narrative. Very much a stylish character piece wrapped up as a melodramatic thriller, The Housemaid competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.