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Film / The Housemaid (1960)

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This is a bad idea.

The Housemaid (하녀, Hanyeo) is a 1960 South Korean film directed by Kim Ki-young.

Dong-sik Kim (Kim Jin-kyu) is a composer who teaches piano to the workers at a Korean textile factory. His wife, Mrs. Kim (Ju Jeung-ryu), has been pushing for a bigger house and has been doing piece work on a sewing machine to help increase the family income. This work and her advanced pregnancy have left her too tired to keep house and look after their two children, so the Kims decide to hire a housemaid.

One of Dong-sik's students, Kyung-hee (Um Aing-ran), has a crush on him. She enlists her roommate at the factory, Myung-sook (Lee Eun-shim), to take the job as housemate to the Kims. Myung-sook winds up seducing Dong-sik and becoming his mistress. A tale of lust, obsession, blackmail, and murder ensues, as Myung-sook tries to claim Dong-sik for her own.

This film, made only seven years after the end of The Korean War, is a milestone in post-war South Korean cinema. Kim Ki-Young remade this film under the title Woman of Fire in 1971 and again in 1982. Director Im Sang-soo made another remake, a looser adaptation also titled The Housemaid, in 2010.


  • An Aesop: Older men should not chase after sexy young girls. See Breaking the Fourth Wall below.
  • Artistic License – Pharmacology: Rat poison is designed to be slow-acting, so the rats don't figure out that it's dangerous to ingest. In the film, the effect is much too fast.
  • Betty and Veronica: Dong-sik has Mrs. Kim, his proper, well-behaved Betty, and Myung-sook, his darkly sensual Veronica.
  • Blackmail: After Dong-sik's son falls down the stairs and dies, Myung-sook threatens to reveal everything, which will result in Dong-sik losing his job. So not only does the family cover up the circumstances of the boy's death, but Myung-sook gets Dong-sik to sleep with her again. At the end, Myung-sook threatens to reveal that Mrs. Kim tried to murder her, thus forcing Dong-sik to join her in suicide.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: This makes for a singularly bizarre ending. After the Nested Story Reveal, the character of Dong-sik turns and addresses the audience, saying that all men, even the ones in the audience shaking their heads, lust after younger women. He wags his finger in disapproval and laughs, lighthearted comic music plays, and the film ends. The result is some amazing Mood Whiplash after two hours of adultery, suicide, and murder.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Mrs. Kim wakes up this way, and tells her husband she had a weird dream where the rats in the house had been poisoned, but they all had human faces.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The rat poison. Dong-sik's son Chang-soon thinks Myung-sook poisoned his water with it, so she drinks the water instead. Then she later tricks Chang-soon into thinking she poisoned him, causing him to run off in a panic, fall down the stairs, and die. Then Mrs. Kim tries to kill her with it, but it turns out that Myung-sook had switched out the rat poison for sugar water. Then Myung-sook and Dong-sik kill themselves by drinking the rat poison.
  • Defiled Forever: After he knocks her up, Myung-sook says that Dong-sik has to take care of her now because no man will marry her now that she's not a virgin.
  • Dies Wide Open: Both Myung-sook and Dong-sik after they drink the rat poison.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Largely averted. While Dong-sik refers to his relationship with Myung-sook as an affair, the film makes it clear just how horrifying their encounters are for him.
  • Driven to Suicide: Seon-young, the factory worker who carried a love note to Dong-sik, kills herself after she's suspended from the factory. At the end of the movie, Myung-sook blackmails Dong-sik into a mutual suicide.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The Kims are shockingly ruthless in maintaining their status, regardless of how many factory workers get hurt. Myung-sook is also borderline psychotic and kicks of the main dramatic thrust by forcing Mr. Kim into a relationship.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Myung-sook has a point. It was not very nice of the Kims to get her pregnant and then pressure her into taking a fall down the stairs in order to induce a miscarriage.
  • Kubrick Stare: Myung-sook gets off a few of these, including a pretty chilling one at the kids from outside the window.
  • The Mistress: Myung-sook calls herself this after she and Dong-sik have sex, but he's clearly already regretting it.
  • Mood Whiplash: See Breaking the Fourth Wall above.
  • Morning Sickness / Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Myung-sook barfs into the kitchen sink, revealing that she is pregnant.
  • Nested Story Reveal: The whole movie turns out to be a hypothetical story that Dong-sik told his wife after reading a newspaper story about a man getting into trouble with his housemaid. The real housemaid appears to be a lot meeker than the imaginary Myung-sook, although she does try to get a whiff of Dong-sik's second-hand smoke.
  • No Name Given: Mrs. Kim's name is never mentioned.
  • Psychotic Lover: Myung-sook does not take rejection very well. When her friend Kyung-hee comes back and tries to restart her piano lessons with Dong-sik, Myung-sook stabs her.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Myung-sook exits through the window and hides outside in the rain while Kyung-hee is confronting Dong-sik. When she comes back inside her dress is clinging to her body.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Rebellious Myung-sook is first shown hiding in her roommate's closet, having a smoke. Later she breaks into Dong-sik's cigarette box and demands a smoke, which clearly gets him excited.
  • Staircase Tumble: Mrs. Kim pressures Myung-sook into inducing a miscarriage by tumbling down a flight of stairs. Later, Myung-sook goads Dong-sik's son into a panic which results in a fatal tumble down those same stairs.
  • Together in Death: Averted during the climax. After they both drink poison, Myung-sook says she wants to be Together In Death with Dong-sik, but he is not interested, wishing to die in the presence of his wife. He staggers down the stairs, with Myung-sook clinging to his leg until she dies on the staircase. He then crawls to his wife, who finally sees him just before he collapses and dies at her feet.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Myung-sook does this as she peels out of her soaked dress. Sex with Dong-sik follows.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Myung-sook lures Dong-sik's son to his death from a fall down the stairs, and then threatens to murder Dong-sik's second, newborn son.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Kyung-hee threatens to do this after Dong-sik rejects her advances, tearing her blouse and saying that she'll claim he raped her. It's a bluff, and he chases her out of the house.