I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, but if I did, Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid would surely be among them. This remake undermines the unsettling achievement of the iconic original film, made in 1960 by Kim Ki-Young, by constructing an explicitly classist framework for its characters. It replaces the Korean everyman at the center of the earlier film with a sexually smug cartoon character for whom wine and blow jobs are totems of his boundless leisure and power. By doing these things, it panders to an audience that craves victims and villains. It’s a lesser achievement, and a more simplistic one. But it’s glossy and lush and full of gorgeously decadent people doing their gorgeously decadent thing. In its way, it’s a delight.
The Host arrives in the U.S. on the kind of advance billing that greeted Asian genre features like the stripped-down horror movie Ringu, the ultraviolent reality-tv parody Battle Royale, and the intensely scripted double-crosses of Infernal Affairs. Those films maxed out geek buzz because they were sterling examples of something Hollywood rarely gets right — the raucous, galvanizing, and uncompromising genre movie. Where Hollywood genre pictures increasingly call attention to their own ridiculousness, somehow the best of their Asian counterparts have managed to keep an unrivalled air of seriousness about them, even when the concept is ridiculously outré: Fukasaku kept the schoolchildren’s deathmatch that was Battle Royale under control by shooting it just like a war movie, and by casting Takeshi Kitano, Japan’s ultimate black-comic performer, in an important supporting role. Scorsese updated Infernal Affairs to great effect partly by working with a William Monahan screenplay that smartly made the story even more hard-boiled, and the Hollywood fantasy film got a boost from the largely po-faced (and intermittently excellent) Lord of the Rings series. With King Kong, Peter Jackson even made a go at rescuing the Hollywood monster movie from the Godzilla slums. But his movie was bloated and overly cutesy and felt, ultimately, ponderous in a way you wouldn’t expect a giant-gorilla movie to be. (Perhaps all those Oscars put the wrong ideas in Jackson’s head.)