Years before Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction it was Korea that warned young men, the beasts of civilized society, of the wiles of young women and what they can do to tear apart the foundation of the family. In the midst of the counterculture free love and women’s lib movements The Housemaid (or Hanyo) came along and told guys point blank to watch out for those crazy home wreckers. You’re already married to a pregnant wife, have a steady job teaching piano at the factory, and two lovely kids, even though the daughter’s in crutches and the son’s a bit of a smartass. So, why, why, WHY throw it all away for a night with the housemaid?!
The father pays for his mistake, his face planted firmly in his palm half the time. It’s a wacky, unpredictable situation enhanced by that special blend of psychotic Korean melodrama (think Oldboy) that, similar to Possession, goes from high drama to pure trauma in zero to 60 flat. The father is constantly grimacing from his mistake, the women tear their clothes off and the wife is stoic and noble to the point of absurdity. When the housemaid – with the fearsomeness of a classic movie monster – somehow takes over the home she orders the dad to get out of bed with his wife to come sleep with her, threatening the kids with rat poison in the meantime. Throw in an abortion, infanticide, suicide and pure lusty madness and you got all the psychological trauma you can stand.
It’s a brisk, bizarre movie shot in all sorts of weird angles with cheesy symbolic special effects, like lightning flashes and thunder for whenever something dramatic happens. “Lightning” (really, a crude white line drawn over the frame) strikes a tree outside the house in a Fall of the House of Usher type of fashion, because the housemaid is disrupting the natural order of marriage and family. Nature itself is in turmoil! It’s all very heavy-handed and the politics of desire and gender are off the wall but it’s pretty funny in a retro, campy kind of way. The missing frames and typo-ridden subtitles (that sometimes slide across the frame like skates on ice) add to the charm.
Unfortunately, Housemaid doesn’t appear to be commercially available anywhere so if a local theater has it up on the marquee go see it! To save your family! To save yourself! From … the Housemaid!