February 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

Review: 'The Housemaid' touches on intrigue

Jeon Do-yeon plays a servant facing difficulties via an affair with her boss. (IFC Films)

The sheer linearity of "The Housemaid" would make it something of a snore by western standards.

But this is a Korean movie, and Korean filmmakers these days have a heavy sense of the surreal. Walking to the grocery store can be a head-spinning experience. Petting a dog can turn into an act of malice.

So while "The Housemaid" follows many classic (if often unexpectedly graphic) turns, it still manages to shock with its odd condemnation of social politics and familial intrigue.

The seemingly naïve Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) takes a job as a maid working for an outrageously wealthy family headed by Hoon (Lee Jung-jae), whose spoiled wife Hae-ra (Seo Woo) is well along in pregnancy.

Eun-yi is guided in her chores and offered bitter insights into the life of a maid by an older servant (Yun Yeo-jong). Even though it's menial work, Eun-yi seems happy enough just to have a job.

Soon, though, extra duties come calling when Hoon visits Eun-yi one night with a bottle of wine and fleshly acrobatics on his mind. Eun-yi, somewhat surprisingly, dives right in, and soon they are sharing nightly delights.

The older maid catches on to this and passes the news to Hoon's tyrannical mother-in-law (Park Ji-young). Soon the cat's out of the bag, the wife is incensed and, oops, Eun-yi is pregnant to boot. This makes things kind of tense around the old dinner table, especially since the mother-in-law is trying to figure out whether to kill Eun-yi or force her to have an abortion.

Again, classic stuff: The boss having sex with the help, the outraged wife and mother-in-law, the innocent girl in a dangerous predicament.

But writer-director Im Sang-Soo injects a certain sense of otherworldliness in the proceedings — the final scene is straight from David Lynchland — which may not make things mesmerizing, but does deliver a consistently odd angle.

'The Housemaid'

GRADE: B- Not rated

Running time: 106 minutes


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