We continue with our discussion of the MARTIN SCORSESE’S WORLD CINEMA strand on MUBI, this time focusing on Kim Ki-young’s THE HOUSEMAID (South Korea, 1960). MUBI’s take is that it influenced Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE – clearly evident – and that it ‘changed the course of South Korean cinema forever. An immense success when released in 1960, this striking masterpiece is a blend of sexual obsession and class struggle, horror and social critique’. In the podcast, we agree with most of what MUBI says about it but question the claim that it’s a masterpiece,’ finding the film deeply misogynistic in ways that go even beyond the patriarchal norms of its time and culture. The very handsome version being screened by MUBI is the 2008 restoration by the Korean Film Archive and is a real pleasure to see, making visible the film’s very real inventiveness with light, composition and movement.
I loved Parasite and have posted much on the film, from the significance of the rock, the income gap, the noodles, its relation to the issue of postcolonialism, etc. We´ve even done a podcast. It´s a very rich film. But it also feels like it lacks mystery. That everything in the film is not only interpretable but explainable. That everything has been encoded to clearly extract. That´s great. But it also feels a lack. Nothing in the film has the giddy, quirky, entrancing and mysterious joy of Kim Hye-Ja as the mother dancing to that fabulous and foreign (Spanish? Cuban? I´ve heard it´s flamenco but it doesn´t quite sound like the flamenco I know) music which ends and starts Mother. Just a thought (and some images):
It’s one of José’s films of the year; it leaves Mike cold. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite depicts social inequality in South Korea through a lower-class family that cons its way into working for an upper-class family. We pick our way through the film’s structure; its motif of staircases that delineate status and power relations; the way poverty carries with it an inescapable smell, intolerable to the upper class; the two families’ experiences of nature and the desire for sunshine.
It builds on some aspects of horror, but cannot at all be considered one, either in genre or affect – though the fact that its trailers sold it as such might have something to do with Mike’s frosty response. It’s an allegorical thriller, every character standing in place of a class or group of people, and its construction is intelligent, thoughtful and tight. For José, it works on a visceral level, the mood and tone emphasising and combining with the structure and metaphor; for Mike, it’s a flat experience, a clever essay with definite interpretations and little feeling.
But it’s clearly touched a nerve, connecting with worldwide audiences. It speaks not just to conditions in South Korea but a global system of oppression and inequality under capitalism. We may not agree on what it makes us feel, but it’s potent food for thought and offers much to discuss. Don’t miss it.
Also in this episode, we take a look at the upcoming Oscars, which eager cinephiles will be able to watch yesterday.