This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Hanyo / The Housemaid (2010) and a character analysis about the three main characters. Beware of spoilers.
The film is a remake of the 1960 classic Hanyo. This version was directed by Im Sang-soo and it stars Jeon Do-yeon as Eun-yi and Lee Jung-jae as Hoon.
The Housemaid (2010) – Plot Summary
Eun-yi is a young woman living in a tiny city apartment with her room mate. One day, an older woman by the name of Byeong-sik (Miss Cho) approaches Eun-yi to recruit her as a housemaid for a rich family. She accepts.
Eun-yi’s primary task is to take care of the rich couple’s daughter Nami and assist the pregnant wife Hae-ra. The husband (Hoon) is instantly attracted to Eun-yi and starts flirting with her. They begin a sexual relationship and the wife doesn’t object to it because she’s oblivious about their affair.
One day, Miss Cho catches Hoon having sex with Eun-yi. She probes Eun-yi, but she insists there’s nothing to worry about. Therefore, Miss Cho alerts Mi-hee (Hae-ra’s mother) about the affair. At this point, they have strong reasons to believe that Eun-yi is pregnant (Hoon is the father). This suspicion prompts Mi-hee to pay a visit to her daughter. During her stay, she plans an accident and makes Eun-yi fall off a ladder. They rush to a hospital and Eun-yi finds out that’s she’s pregnant.
Hae-ra’s mother asks her daughter to ignore the affair. Min-hee insists that all rich husbands eventually cheat on their wives. The next day, Hae-ra offers Eun-yi a sum money to abort the child and leave. She refuses. As a result, Hae-ra poisons Eun-yi’s herbal medicine. After she gave birth to the twins, Hae-ra let’s Hoon know that she’s knows about the affair (and she’s furious).
Eun-yi eventually succumbs to the poison and Min-hee arranges an abortion against her will. Miss Cho visits Eun-yi at hospital and confesses that she told Min-hee about her pregnancy. Eun-yi eventually forgives Miss Cho and asks her to help sneak into the house. She grabs one of the twins and starts breastfeeding him which terrifies Hoon. Hae-ra asks Miss Cho to escort Eun-yi out of the house. However, she refuses and quits her job on the spot. Eun-yi confronts the entire family, hangs herself from a chandelier and sets herself on fire.
The final scene shows the family celebrating Nami’s birthday outdoors and speaking in English. Hae-ra sings Happy Birthday while Hoon hands Nami a glass of champagne.
The Housemaid (2010) – Ending Explained
What was that ending all about? Why did Eun-yi hang herself?
The whole film is a satire about how the wealthy treat the help. Eun-yi is a housemaid and she knows her place. She’s perfectly aware that she’ll never be able to fight the rich because she simply doesn’t have the financial means to do so. The whole family treats her badly because they also know that. Therefore, when she hung herself it was basically a big f*ck you to the family.
Wasn’t the hanging enough? Why did she set herself on fire? She set herself on fire just to scar them as much as she can. Nami was also part of the crowd. What did she do wrong? Nothing, but Eun-yi wanted to scar everyone. In addition, she knows that Nami is precious to her parents, so damaging her is also a way of hurting Hoon and Hae-ra.
The final scene hints that Eun-yi was indeed successful, the whole family looks insane except for Nami (although she might lose her marbles soon).
Was Eun-yi A Victim? Or Did She Deserve To Die?
In my opinion, Eun-yi was not a real victim. When, she decided to start a sexual affair with Hoon, she knew that he was married and that his wife was pregnant with twins. What did she do? She decided to ignore it all. Eun-yi knows her place in that house. That’s why she keeps treating the wife nicely (even after the affair) and never asks Hoon for anything other than sex.
Now, did she deserve to die? I don’t think so. She’s not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that she deserves to die. However, as a viewer you might feel less sympathetic towards her death.
Are Hae-ra, Min-hee and Hoon bad people?
Here’s a controversial thought: they are not bad people. For instance, Hae-ra seemed nice in the beginning (until she found out about the affair). Hae-ra’s actions towards Eun-yi are not condonable, but as a viewer you get why she’s angry.
Hoon is definitely not husband of the year. However, when he found out that Eun-yi was pregnant, he wanted to have the baby. What does that say about Hoon? Some people like the idea of doing the right thing, but that doesn’t mean they are about that life. In other words, Hoon likes to think that he’s the good guy.
What about Min-hee? Within them three, Min-hee should be the one to know better (she’s the old one). Sadly, she’s just as reckless as the other two. Min-hee is just an old lady looking out for her daughter’s interests (same of as hers).
Having said that, it wouldn’t be accurate to label them as bad people. However, they are indeed very selfish people. In addition, they are not very good at cleaning up their own mess. They are too used to having others doing it for them.
The Housemaid is not a perfect film, but it stays with you. The ending will haunt you and make you think about it.
The film is very peculiar because you don’t feel much sympathy for any of the characters (even the protagonist). However, I do commend the film-maker for not creating a perfect protagonist. I guess Eun-yi’s flaws make her more human? In addition, it’s very interesting to watch The Housemaid because it makes fun of serious topics such as adultery and social stratification.
What about the sex scenes? Are they gratuitous? Unlike, it’s Korean counterpart The Handmaiden, the sex scenes did feel a bit gratuitous. The whole film would have been just fine without all the explicit nudity.
Did the ending break or make the film? The film was going steadily until the protagonist hung herself and set herself on fire. The film is a satire, so a scandalous ending was already expected. However, the final scene outdoors might leave the viewers a bit unsatisfied because it’s too open. Nonetheless, The Housemaid is a very thought provoking film that is worth watching.