Kim Ki-young made a wide variety of films in a career that stretched from 1955 to 1990. After the major success of his 1960 film The Housemaid, however, he often repeated the basic narrative of that first real hit: a young working-class/country woman becomes a servant in a more-or-less middle-class Seoul family. She seduces the weak husband, becomes pregnant, drives the wife to despair, and maybe tosses into the mix damage to available offspring. All these scandalous goings-on are frequently backed up by daring camera work and bizarrely innovative set design. Not much in the way of sexual frankness made it past the censors in the 1960s and 1970s, so the films remained popular while critics increasingly appreciated the anti-establishment, anti-melodramatic instincts of the director.
With Angel, Become an Evil Woman, Kim has reinvigorated his familiar materials by splicing into them a different kind of story. The idea of having two disaffected spouses swapping plans to murder the other’s partner is something Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Strangers on a Train (1951) had taken from Patricia Highsmith. Kim spliced the story of two women seeking revenge on two men into the relationship between a married man, his mistress and his wife. The result makes for, to put it mildly, a very complex film, one that the director ultimately decided to shelve. Yet the starring role played in it by Oscar-winner Youn Yuh-jung has finally prompted the film’s revival. So we are left with the question: was Kim right to withhold ‘An Experience To Die For, Angel, Become an Evil Woman’, or are we right to want access to his final film?