Woman of Fire (화녀), dir. Kim Ki-young, South Korea 1971, 98 min., Korean with English subtitles
Myungja (Academy Award-winner Youn Yuh-jung, making her film debut) arrives in the big city looking for work – and, perhaps, a husband. When a well-dressed lady (Jeon Gye-hyeon) seems to suggest that she could help on both counts, Myungja agrees to work for her as an all-purpose maid. But as she does so, the father of the family, a handsome but weak-willed composer (Namkoong Won), proves easy prey – and Myungja begins to dismantle the family’s fragile respectability.
Presented here is a special restored version of Youn Yuh-jung’s film debut, seen on the big screen for the first time in 50 years. Kim Ki-young’s melodrama – the first of various remakes of his 1960 masterpiece The Housemaid – has lost none of its original power. Kim’s work prefigured a new genre of ‘hostess’ films: tales of young country women who come to the city full of hope, only to be abused by nice middle-class fathers and/or employers. But Kim reverses the poles, setting the young woman free to ‘ruin’ both the patriarch and his family.