Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid (or Cô Hầu Gái) is one of Vietnam's few attempts in making a horror film. At its core, Cô Hầu Gái keeps you on your seat. However, the film disappoints when it tries to look like a period film.
It takes place in 1953 during the Indochina War (1946-1954), a war between communist revolutionaries and France. Linh (Kate Nhung), an orphaned Northern Vietnamese girl, finds a job as a house maid at a rubber plantation owned by Captain Sébastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), a French officer who is on the front. While cooking with Bà Ngô, the cook, Linh learns that Captain Laurent's mansion is haunted by the soul of dead Vietnamese plantation workers and Mme Camille, the Captain's wife who committed a suicide.
When the Captain is back from the front, Linh, Bà Ngô, and Bà Hàn (Kim Xuan), the lady in command, finds him bleeding at the mansion's doorstep. Captain Laurent was ambushed by communists revolutionaries on his way home. When Captain Laurent is nursed back to health, Linh gradually falls in love with him. However, it awakens Mme Camille's vengeful ghost. Soon, everybody who lives in and around the mansion strives to stay alive.
Despite its lack of originality, Cô Hầu Gái is an entertaining slasher film. At times, it delivers an effort to be Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) or Kim Jee-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). The mansion is described as a haunting place where many people, namely Vietnamese rubber workers, died violently in and around it. In other cases, the mansion can turn people insane. Moreover, the nice plot twist, which is supported by a few details left in the film, blurs the line between what actually happens in the film and what Linh does not want to tell us while narrating the story.
Unfortunately, the biggest issue with Cô Hầu Gái is its pretension to be a period film set during the last days of Vietnam's colonial era. In the film, all French characters speak in... English between themselves! When they speak to Vietnamese characters, they do it in English.
It is disappointing considering that Vietnamese films that preceded Cô Hầu Gái starred French actors for speaking roles in French. Think of The Rebel (2007) and The Clash (2009), two martial films starring Johnny Trí Nguyen. If we go back in time, we can also think of Hanoi: Winter 1946 (1997), a propaganda film about the Indochina War from Ho Chi Minh's perspective.
Yes, you read correctly. The film Cô Hầu Gái, despite its slick visual, nice costumes and good budget, is beaten by two martial arts films produced on a shoestring budget and a cheap propaganda film from the 1990s. I wanted to like the film, but unfortunately, one detail marred my experience.
|Starring||:||Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Svitlana Kovalenko and Phi Phung.|