Scen.: Kim Ki-young. F.: Kim Deok-jin. M.: Oh Young-keun. Scgf.: Park Seok-in. Mus.: Han Sang-ki. Int.: Kim Jin-kyu (Dong-sik), Ju Jeung-ryu (la moglie di Dong-sik), Lee Eun-sim (la cameriera), Um Aing-ran (Kyung hui), Ahn Sung-ki (Chang-sun). Prod.: Korean Munye Films Co., Ltd.. 35mm. D.: 110’. Bn
A music teacher and his beautiful and diligent wife, together with their two children, live in a newly built two-storey house complete with piano and television set. One day a housemaid enters into this ‘domestic bliss’. The household is maintained through both financial and practical means; whilst the wife brings money home with the help of her sewing machine, cheap labour, in the form of the housemaid, allows the family to keep on top of the household chores. However, when the housemaid seduces the husband and becomes pregnant, she begins to threaten the family. With the husband paralysed by temptation, his wife endeavours to keep up appearances rather than protect the other family members. Yet still the housemaid demands more and more.
Hanyeo is a depiction of the shift in class status, work and habitus that took place during the rapid period of modernisation of post-war Korea, material to which Kim Ki-young applies his ruthless conceptualisation of humanity. Hanyeo is also the first of Kim’s films to expose his obsession with femininity – a fascination that he further pursued through Hwanyeo (Woman of Fire, 1971), Chungnyeo (Insect Woman, 1972) and Hwanyeo ’82 (Woman of Fire ’82, 1982). In these works, the fear of women is deep-rooted: they are represented as monsters. However, these women become neither merely othered or appropriated, but rather sustain their agency, something that grants Kim’s cinema its multi-faceted appeal. From this point of view, the dominant nature of the wife character is as problematic as the housemaid when contrasted with female stereotypes of the time. Like any other woman, she fights her husband’s lover to hold onto her dream of an ‘ideal family’; she is willing to sacrifice both her husband and even her children in the process. The ‘housemaid’ as a symbol has become a blueprint for 21st-century Korean auteur genre films, with the motif resurfacing in titles such as Im Sangsoo’s Hanyeo (The Housemaid, 2010) and Park Chan-wook’s Agassi (The Handmaiden, 2016).
Long considered lost, the original negative of Hanyeo was found in 1982 with two missing reels, 5 and 8. In 1990, extensive research lead to the location of one original release print which, despite being highly damaged and presenting English subtitles was used to complete the film. The long and complex restoration process has involved the use of a special subtitle-removal software and included flicker and grain reduction, scratch and dust removal, color grading.