Im Sang-Soo Dishes On His Kinky & Topical “Housemaid” Revamp

Im Sang-Soo Dishes On His Kinky & Topical "Housemaid" Revamp

A hit at last year’s Cannes, Toronto and Fantastic Fest film festivals, Im Sang-Soo’s “The Housemaid” is a thriller notable for explicit sex scenes, class warfare and lavish set pieces.

In this remake of Kim Ki-young’s 1960 Korean classic, Jeon Do-yeon (Cannes Best Actress winner for “Secret Sunshine”) stars as a young woman hired as a nanny in a mansion by businessman Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) and his very pregnant wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo). Once living with the soon-to-be parents, it’s not long before the nanny embarks on a torrid affair with Hoon, leading to disastrous results.

Sang-Soo, a controversial and celebrated director in South Korea, sat down with indieWIRE last September to chat about his glossy revamp shortly after the film kicked off the Korean Film series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Among the topics: Why sex scenes can be more important than dialogue, the influences of Shakespeare and Hitchcock, and his next housemaid movie.

Your remake of “The Housemaid” deals explicitly with the class system in Korea, something you’ve explored in your past works, most notably in “Tears.” Where does this interest in class relations stem from?

Around the ’80s when the Eastern Bloc collapsed, many people said that Marxism and these issues of class differences weren’t important to us anymore. I don’t think they’ve ever gone away. It’s just that they are being slightly hidden in our everyday fabric.

In this day and age we are also compounded by racial tensions. These wars that have been going on after 9/11 all deal with issues of religion. But it also marks another turn to this class division. There is this conflict in the countries at war with the U.S. that people feel they have to act on. These are questions I’m concerned about. In a way, I’m definitely much more concerned with these things now than when I was making those earlier films.

Why remake “The Housemaid”?

The original film is a very legendary one. The impact of that title is obvious in the Korean film industry. That is why our producer bought the rights. As a director myself, I’m not interested in remaking something that’s been done before in exactly the same way it was previously shot. I agreed to do this as a way of making sure I could interpret it in my own way, in a way that fits our current times and the context it brings with it. That’s how I came to this project.

Did the film’s addition to last year’s Cannes lineup surprise you?

At the time, Lee Chang-dong’s film “Poetry” was pretty much complete and ready to go to Cannes. It was widely accepted in Korea that this was going to be one of the films to go. I thought that it wouldn’t be possible for two Korean films to be in the same main competition. I was thinking maybe it will go into one of the side competitions, but I was generally surprised when it was accepted into the main roster.

I think in a way my film was probably the film that was one of the least boring, artistic, ‘festival-y’ kind of films. Really, I like to make films that I like to see. I think my films tend to be films that excite people in some way or another. I think that’s what drew people’s attention. I suppose maybe Cannes put my film in there to appease the critics and journalists who were bored of these types of films — to have fun, to mix it up.

The film features some pretty racy material. Were the leads apprehensive about shooting the sex scenes?

A scene from Im Sang-Soo’s “The Housemaid.” Image courtesy of IFC Films.

The actors kind of early on understood the sex scenes were there not for any kind of commercial reasons or to exploit them. They understood they were there because it was the appropriate amount needed for a consistent work. They were very cooperative. It was obviously difficult and taxing on their part. But they understood where I was coming from. You could say that the dialogue was put in there to appease these older people behind the scenes at the festivals and the studios so it would pique their interest. That’s why I sprinkled lines in there.

There’s a definite Hitchcock influence at work in “The Housemaid.” What films of his (if any) inspired you while shooting the film?

Films like “The Birds, “North by Northwest,” “Topaz” and “Rebecca” left a big impression on me. I remember seeing those films when I was less than 10 years old. During my 20s, there was a Hitchcock series running in Paris and I remember seeing all of his films at that time. It’s something that’s still fresh in my mind these days. In particular with this film, I re-watched “Rebecca” a lot.

How did you land Jeon Do-yeon as your “Housemaid” and how was working with the award-winning actress?

Before I got involved, the producer had a prepared script from another writer. Jeon was given that script and said with that script, she wouldn’t do it. The producer then told her they were thinking of asking me to direct, to which she expressed interest if I rewrote the script. So while I was writing the script I asked her to wait and not take on other projects while I finished it. When I did finish it, she was okay with it. The moment she signed, any kind of financial problems were gone and it was greenlighted as a go.

One of the conditions in me taking on this project was that we shoot from January through to the end of February so it could be completed and sent off to Cannes. I thought it would be possible that we would be able to finish it by then. But Jeon, having recently done work with directors like Chang-dong Lee, was used to primarily shooting scenes in chronological order. Because I was on such a tight schedule, I was working with things out of order and she did complain. But she came around in the end.

The house in which the film is set is quite an elaborate sight to behold.

The house is one of the most important characters in the film. Because of that, we paid special attention to making the house just right. One of the reasons we able to finish the film in such a fast time, was because once the story took place inside, it was naturally faster to complete the scenes. The house, I guess you could say, is an almost a European ideal, with artwork collected and displayed like a gallery throughout. What we were trying to do was reflect the conflicts and personalities of the people inhabiting the house. In turn, they turn the house into a very dark and moody place.

What do you have in the works?

There is a script I am almost finished with. I hope to film this spring. It’s kind of a masculine version of this “Housemaid” story. It’s got some more sex and it has a murder case structured into it. It’s going to be a centered on a Philippine housemaid and an American businessman.

“The Housemaid” has one male and everyone else is female. This next film will have many more main male characters. It’s going to deal with three important concepts: power, money and death. As far as reading material and research for the film, I’ve re-read of many Shakespeare’s tragedies, including “King Lear” and “Macbeth.” If someone calls my next film a combination of Hitchcock and Shakespearean tragedies, I will be very happy.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged ,


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *