Title: The Houseguest and my Mother
Sa-rang-bang Son-nim-gwa Eo-meo-ni (사랑방 손님과 어머니)
Director: Shin Sang-ok (신상옥)
Runtime: 102 min.
Cast: Choi Eun-hee (최은희), Kim Jin-kyu (김진규), Jeon Yeong-seon (전영선), Han Eun-jin (한은진), Do Kum-bong (도금봉)
A classic of Korean cinema: „The Houseguest and My Mother“ by Shin Sang-ok is based on the short story of the same name by Ju Yo-seop and tells two love stories from the perspective of the six-year-old girl Ok-hee (Jeon Yeong-seon).
In the charming intro, which is accompanied by children’s drawings by Ok-hee, not only is the home of the shrewd girl brought closer to us via voiceover but also her family is introduced: The grandmother (Han Eun-jin), a serious deacon whom everyone is fearful of except Ok-hee; the mother (Choi Eun-hee), who in Ok-hee’s eyes is the most beautiful woman in the world and ultimately the kind-hearted housemaid (Do Kum-bong), who is hardworking but also “likes to eat well and sleep”.
The three women are widowed, which is why the house in which Ok-hee lives with them is called the „widow’s house“. Ok-hee doesn’t know what a widow is but adds that „she is referred to as a ‚widow’s daughter‘ and that this means that her mother is a widow“.
The story begins with the arrival of Ok-hee’s uncle, the mother’s older brother, and an acquaintance of the late father: Mr. Han (Kim Jin-kyu), an artist from Seoul, rents a room in the “widow’s house”. Exact reasons for this are never given, but it doesn’t take long before Ok-hee befriends the house guest and begins to see him as a father figure. And Mr. Han also seems to take Ok-hee straight into his heart – some heartwarming moments follow, which nevertheless leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. “It could be like that,” the viewer might think but one also knows for sure that it is not that easy; that it is never as easy as it is from a child’s point of view.
Ok-hee, who wants to see her mother but also Mr. Han happy, makes all kinds of (well-intentioned) attempts to bring the two together. Or at least make them exchange a few words.
There is no plot in the classical sense; the film rather creates a certain atmosphere and plays with the tension that develops between the mother and the houseguest. At the same time, however, the expectations and hopes of the audience are played with, who are repeatedly torn between questions such as “Will they?” And “May they?”. The romance of the maid and the egg seller also plays an important role because these characters belong to a different class of society. There are also some consequences because of their love for the housemaid, but they are quite bearable in comparison.
The mother’s emotional world is accompanied by melancholy symphonies by Frédéric Chopin, which the actress Choi Eun-hee performs herself on the piano. Her performance here and generally throughout the film is both impressive and moving.
“The Houseguest and My Mother” focuses on calm, gentle moments, but also on deep emotions. As a viewer, you want to keep a spark of hope until the end because the mother finds unexpected support both from her older brother and mother-in-law, who undergoes a change in the course of the film and is more than a one-dimensional character. „The Houseguest and My Mother“ is definitely a film that has more than earned its place as a classic!