Park Chan-wook’s newest film, The Handmaiden, adapted from Sarah Waters’ crime novel Fingersmith, follows the story quite closely, though setting the film in 1930s Korea and Japan instead of Victorian Britain. Over the course of nearly three hours, Park slowly reveals the plot in three parts, even doubling back on part one in part two to reveal missing pieces of the story that we didn’t even know were missing in the first place.
The Handmaiden is well-shot and set in extraordinary surrounding landscapes. Much of the film is set in the Japanese noblewoman Hideko’s (Kim Min-hee) uncle’s house – a mixture of English and Japanese architecture, that matches the variety of cultural influences working on the film’s story and style. The camera is constantly zooming into characters’ faces and objects in a way that is unsettling and unexpected for the upper-class setting, reminding the audience that this is a tale of crime and betrayal.
Besides the chilling moments that the twisting storyline and style of filming create, the film still manages to become ever so slightly silly when dealing with the blossoming romance and sex scenes between Hideko and her pickpocket handmaiden, Sookee. The over-the-top lesbian encounters are, however, a welcome break from the violent pornographic stories that Hideko is made to read in front of her uncle’s friends. So this silliness is not necessarily unwelcome in a film that, as in Stoker and Oldboy, produces feelings of discomfort throughout.
The Handmaiden is a triumphant project, pacing its plot well in order to stay engrossing for the whole of its runtime, and creating a dark and twisted piece of cinema that is an imaginative take on an English Victorian-set novel.
CAST: Kim Min-hee, Tae Ri Kim, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
DIRECTOR: Park Chan-wook
WRITERS: Park Chan-wook, Jeong Seo-Gyeong
SYNOPSIS: A Korean conman enlists a pickpocket to help him seduce and trick a Japanese noblewoman out of her inheritance.