1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a new girl (Sookee) is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress (Hideko) who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering Uncle (Kouzuki). But the maid has a secret. She is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese Count to help him seduce the Lady to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan until Sookee and Hideko discover some unexpected emotions.Written by
Several of the characters in this film, adapted from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, were significantly altered for this version's script. Gentleman (Count Fujiwara in the film) was a gay man in the novel whose interest in Maude (Lady Hideko) was purely monetary. In the film, the Count is a suave womanizer. Uncle Kouzuki's novel counterpart is tamer, although he isn't a saint, he was never evil and prone to cold blooded torture like his film counterpart. See more »
The Count uses a propane gas lighter. That was impossible in 1930. See more »
The controversial film from Korean master Chan-wook Park evokes the sexiness of Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Colour" and Park's own signature violence and thrills. Set in the 1930s Japanese occupied Korea, it's a story of a young female pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) who becomes a handmaiden to a beautiful Japanese heiress (Min-hee Kim). However, she must manage to convince the heiress to marry a conman (Jung-woo Ha) who poses as a count, for which she will get a chance for a better life. She gets into a moral dilemma when she starts developing feelings for the heiress.
The Handmaiden is a triumph on every level. The film is divided into three chapters, all giving different perspective. This way, the story is perfectly structured to give more and more insight as the film progresses, but at the same time, keep the viewers guessing. It offers a few surprises along the way as well. Visually, it's a feast for the eyes. The term "every frame a painting" gets overused, but it really fits here. I'm not only talking about cinematography, which offered plenty of memorable shots and beautiful scenery, but the costume and set design. The three leads all gave terrific performances. Musical score by Yeong-wook evokes, or better said, amplifies the emotions and the suspenseful tone. Despite the run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes, it never gets dull, it's very evenly paced throughout. I couldn't look away for a second.
One thing needs to be addressed, the film is quite explicit. That being said, it never gets vulgar, the sex scenes are done in perfect taste, they never feel out of place and they're not there just for the sake of it. The relationship between the characters and the physical presentation of it are integral to the film. It's a film about passion, abuse, jealousy, betrayal and deception, but most of all, it's an atypical love story, which will make one love and hate the protagonists at the same time. It's original and daring work of art that will stick with viewers long after it's finished.
Whenever Chan-wook Park makes a film, it must undoubtedly be compared to his masterpiece, "Oldboy". I don't think that "The Handmaiden" surpasses it, but it comes very close. With this film, he proved himself to be one of the greatest working directors today. It's the best film I've seen this year, one that I can't wait to revisit. It's not to be missed.
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