What opened film "The Housemaid" was not the majestic mansion nor the elegant trail of a noblewoman's skirt we had seen through the still images or previews of the film revealed up till now. The film rather draws on women in a hurriedly-set up food alley in a new city who are cooking meat or handing out flyers to passers-by. And the moment the camera focuses on Eun-yi (played by Jeon Do-youn), the only character who is seen smiling, one starts to feel an anticipation mixed with anxiety to see how this seemingly innocent female will change once she wears the clothes of a housemaid. Like director Im Sang-soo said -- "I believe it isn't a remake of the original film" -- the new version of "The Housemaid" revealed at a press screening on Monday was quite different from the original production helmed by the late director Kim Ki-young. The 2010 version of "The Housemaid," which adopts its characters from its original film from 50 years ago, strongly poses the question of what it means to live like a human being by depicting on Eun-yi's struggles. Below are excerpts from the press screening of the film which is set for release on May 13.
Q: Was there anything about the film that you meant to keep or add newly while re-creating "The Housemaid" for the first time in 50 years?
Im Sang-soo: I had watched director Kim Ki-young's "The Housemaid" but I put in an effort to, and actually managed to, forget about the original version. I regarded this version as making my own story based on the characters from the original film, not as shooting a remake.
Q: I think the shocking skin-baring scenes will become the talk of the town once it's released in theaters.
Jeon Do-youn: I have to express myself with my body because I'm an actor but I became a bit frustrated while shooting this film. It was frustrating because when I tried to express something, I felt like I wasn't in complete control of my own body. So that's what I tried to overcome. I tried to make it [acting] seem natural and treat it as if it was nothing.
Im: Jeon went through fire and water for this film. It was important that the actress does not think about how much skin she shows or hides, nor the commercial aspect to her revealing scenes but that she just be as natural as possible. I was so grateful that Jeon read into my mind in that aspect.
Q: Hoon, the wealthy owner of the mansion who has an affair with his housemaid Eun-yi, is not coherent in that he looks mild-mannered on the outside but is also evil and weak. Such a male character is not seen too often in Korean films.
Lee Jung-jae: I myself haven't seen such a role before. All I can say is that he's a weird character but the director increasingly asked for more in-depth expression regarding my role. He would write new lines for him and also ask that he be more clownish in some part while more mean in others. At the time I didn't want to do what I was told to and had doubts (laugh), but I think he was aiming at making the two housemaids feel more humiliated. And if that's the role I had been set to play in the film, I told myself that I might as well do as I've been told by the director or pushing it even a bit more. That's how the character you saw today came about. (laugh)
Im: Hoon isn't actually a bad guy. He's gentle and although he might have some thoughts of his own, but everyone [in this world] is similarly bad. Hera too does a few things which could seem wrong but it's mainly caused by her mother who keeps emphasizing reality. Nobody is a bad person in this movie.
Q: There is so much symbolism we can find from character Byung-shik that it seems that the film's title may actually refer to her.
Yoon Yeo-jung: Jeon is a housemaid from the new generation but I'm a housemaid down to the bone. The line that stood out for me in the first script I got was "We all have the housemaid spirit within us." It pricked my conscience because it felt like it was directed to me. (laugh) Aren't we all like that -- those of us from the older generation? Doesn't our generation seem like that to the audience too? I tried to express Byung-shik as someone from my generation.
Im: In a way, Eun-yi may be very pretty and cute and one may feel sorry for her, but her character may be unrealistic. But Byung-shik was someone who she herself may be or at least around us. 'The housemaid spirit within us' was one of the keywords to this film and she [Byung-shik] was the character who would show that.
Seo Woo: The first time we ate together, I remember suffering from indigestion, just like Lee said he did. (laugh) My character He-rah doesn't play a big role in the film but I thought she was important so I became so worried after the meal that I cried a lot too. During the shoot itself I was amazed watching my seniors act -- how they could act in such a way. I learned a lot from how they acted in accordance to the director's directions.
Q: The overall atmosphere of the film is extremely posh, including Hoon and Hera's mansion which is the main backdrop for the film.
Im: Kim Ki-young's original film, shot in the 1960s, contains the social and economical situation of those times. It's when the middle class started to form in Korea and a lot of younger people were moving to the city due to the economical gap between the city and farming areas. Of them, women became housemaids who served not only for the rich but also the middle class and that issue had served as the basis to Kim Ki-young's work. What I realized upon reworking "The Housemaid" in 50 years was that there are much more wealthy people now, people who are millionaires. So I think that was reflected in the film. But while there are people who will drink a bottle of wine that costs millions of wons and hang up pictures worth billions, there has been a dissolution in the lower portion of the middle class. It's shown in the beginning of the film but I wanted to depict the reality in which housewives from normal families have to undertake hard work too and maybe work at restaurants.
|Director Im Sang-soo [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
Lee: I tried my best to act as shameless as I could and to bring out what the director wanted as best as I could. It was the first time I was taking on such a role so I had been a bit reluctant to play it in the beginning and even after I had set my mind, there were some scenes which were difficult to shoot. But I do still think I had a lot of fun.
Jeon: Actors are always placed in situations and emotions they have never experienced. We act out what we haven't experienced so we do as we film.
Im: Lee and I actually had an emergency meeting after the first shoot, discussing what he should do amongst the actresses, and we decided that he should put up a good defense by throwing jabs rather than attempting to throw a K.O. punch and end up missing. (laugh) What you saw today was the result of that, and jabs are actually more scary. Even Jeon shot this film in a short time and not in order either. I became marveled at how she could shoot two completely different scenes back-to-back with completely different body language. I'm an aspiring artist while Jeon is a full-fledged artist.
Q: I think your experience of getting married and giving birth must have helped a lot in portraying the maternal instinct your character Eun-yi shows.
Jeon: I think solely of myself when I'm in shoot. I didn't feel more motherly because I have a child of my own. I think I'm someone who just has that within me. When I asked director Lee Chang-dong why he had cast me for "Secret Sunshine," he said it's because he felt that I would have the strongest maternal instinct. (laugh) I shot solely with what I have within me, without considering the fact that I have a child.
Q: You'll be leaving for the Cannes International Film Festival in just a few days with your film which will be in Competition.
Im: We're going to Cannes thanks to director Kim Ki-young and Jeon Do-youn. Cannes is a serious film fest where mostly serious directors with their serious films go to, so being someone who isn't serious at all, it's thrilling to be going. I don't know for sure but I'm pretty confident that our film will be the least boring out of the films that will be shown in the Competition category. (laugh)
Jeon: This will be my second time going to Cannes -- I had been a bit disappointed the first time because I was so nervous that I hadn't been able to enjoy myself. I'm going to put my mind at ease this time and just enjoy myself.
Lee: I had seen it a lot through the press or on television but it'll be the first time I'm going to Cannes so I'm nervous but also excited about it. I'm hoping I'l have fun.
Yoon: First of all, I'm happy to get to visit the city of Cannes for the first time. (laugh) Director Kim Ki-young is the one who should have been there a long time ago but he hadn't. And for someone like me in my generation, I had heard of the film fest but never thought I'd actually get to go. Kim Ki-young would have gone if he was alive so I'd just like to think that I'm going in his place. It's a bit sad now that I think of it... (laugh)
Seo Woo: I am extremely honored that our film is going to Cannes. I wouldn't have even dared imagining it but I'm so happy to have taken part in a film that is going to Cannes.
Reporter : Lee Ji-Hye seven@
Photographer : Chae ki-won ten@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@
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