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Interview with director Im Sang-soo! THE HOUSEMAID

THE HOUSEMAID is a remake of a very popular 60s Korean thriller. It tells the story of a housemaid hired by a very rich family; her main task is taking care of their young daughter, Nami, as her mother is heavily pregnant with twins. Her father is a high power executive, whose sex life with his wife is not going too good, so he becomes involved with the new housemaid.

As I have never seen the original, I can't compare. The film's main character, the housemaid Eun-Yi, is easy to empathise with from the beginning – she is thorough good-hearted. However, when the film reaches its' mid-point, it is rather infuriating how passive she is considering that the sort of family that she is working for solve everything with money. The old housekeeper, who hires her on behalf of the family, is a double-edged sword; she hates the fact that the family solves everything with money and that the master is allowed to do as he wants, but can't help pandering to them (being the first one to find out the short-lived affair). The wife acts like she is not very smart and is status obsessed, but we see her reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, so she is a rather strange mix of contradictions. And her mother, also status obsessed and an uber bitch is cold and calculating.

What I found really jarring is how the man is allowed to get away after messing up – which is always what happens – and leaves the 4 women to pick up the pieces.

Overall, the film looks and feels clinical, but this is not a bad thing as the story requires it – as it could have easily sunk into melodrama. It ends on a decidedly bleak and sad note. Definitely worth a look!


Tania: A little about your background?

Im Sang-soo: My parents moved from North Korea to South Korea and they were journalists. In our house being an artist or a writer was always seen as being more important than money. And though being a filmmaker in Korea is dangerous, I expect to do it till my death.

Tania: What filmmakers influence you? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Im Sang-soo: Up till 5 years ago, I had a very long list of other filmmakers that influenced me, but then I asked myself the question:“Who am I?” And then I realised that more than directors, I had to create the pictures from within me, so I am no longer able to give you a list.

Tania: Your films are controversial. Do you make a conscious decision to make these films or is it just the sort of material that attracts you?

Im Sang-soo: I am conscious at the time of production that I am making a film that will be controversial, even before. Korea is not a completely liberal country, so there's no real freedom of speech.

Tania: Do you set out to critique the social situation? Is it something that is important to you as a filmmaker, since your parents were journalists?

Im Sang-soo: As a job, it is my bread and butter. However I am not ambitious in monetary terms. My dream is to make commentaries on the social context, but also for my commentary to be seen as art.

Tania: Why do a remake? And why “THE HOUSEMAID”?

Im Sang-soo: My producer decided it, but I saw it as an opportunityto make a film as a commentary on class issues in Korea. And for financial reasons.

Tania: The gender issue in the film; why put these 4 women in this space and let the man walk away?

Im Sang-soo: I don't see the film on gender issue terms, at all. The man causes trouble which the women have to solve amongst themselves, he walks away because that is what happens in real life.

Tania: The ending is strange, why that particular ending?

Im Sang-soo: It was my idea and the producer wanted to cut it, but I see that scene as the most important scene in the film, the one that raises the film above other mediocre films. It is deliberately open-ended; after the tragic events that take place in the previous scene, this child is scarred for life, but her father gives her a very expensive painting, her mother sings to her, and the question is – is this child going to grow up to become like her father, her mother, her grandmother or the maid?

Tania: Why make such a bleak film?

Im Sang-soo: Because that is my perspective of Korea and the world.

Tania: What are you trying to achieve by putting your bleak world view onscreen?

Im Sang-soo: I feel that the majority, the masses need and must coldly face the truth.

Tania: There are specific circumstances in the film i.e. when the maid gets paid by her master, you employ crooked angles that seem to mean that trouble is going on.

Im Sang-soo: Someone in the crew must have suggested it, I thought it was a good idea so I went with it. We want to surround ourselves with creative staff that can come up with good ideas, because film is a shared medium. I just make the final decisions.

Tania: To wrap up – what advice would you give to young filmmakers?

Im Sang-soo: Don't go into film, be happy being a spectator.

Tania: But you became a filmmaker...

Im Sang-soo: (in English) Because I am strong! (in Korean) Perhaps there are differences between Korea and Europe, but I have seen my share of people who are crazy about film, losing all their money to film and ruining their lives.

Tania Martins

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