The Handmaiden

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The Handmaiden

A beautiful, disturbing Korean adaptation of Sarah Waters's bestseller' 'Fingersmith'

Decadence is both the subject and the style in ‘Oldboy’ director Park Chan-wook’s elegant, intensely romantic adaptation of Sarah Waters’s spicy bestseller ‘Fingersmith’. Shifting the action from Victorian England to pre-war Korea under Japanese rule, Park has created a film that delights in ornate furnishings, flowing gowns and sensuous sexual imagery, but reminds us that these things are just surface – the stuff that really matters is always kept hidden.

Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a proper Dickensian orphan: raised by a Fagin-like madam on the streets of Seoul, she’s an experienced thief and con artist. So when smooth huckster Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) needs an eager young crook to impersonate a lady’s handmaiden as part of a scam he’s planning, Sook-hee steps up. Her mission: to encourage the innocent, unworldly Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) to disobey her cruel uncle Kouzuki (Jo Jin-woong) and run away with the dashing Fujiwara – bringing her fortune along with her, of course. And then Sook-hee starts falling in love…

The cinematic equivalent of drinking three glasses of champagne in the bath, ‘The Handmaiden’ is a film to luxuriate in. Park has always been a visual master – even his infuriating American debut, 2013’s ‘Stoker’, had that going for it – but he’s outdone himself here. Waters’s labyrinthine plot is handled with the utmost care, and the characters – particularly the seemingly fragile Hideko – are beautifully sketched and performed.

But it’s in probing beyond the pretty exterior that ‘The Handmaiden’ truly succeeds: it may seem to be a film about wealth, artifice and cruelty, but what resonates is the love story, and the liberated ideals underpinning it (the film’s stark anti-pornography stance is unexpected but strangely affecting). It doesn’t all work – the pace can be a little slow, and there are definitely points where Park tries to have his tasty feminist cake and eat it. But this is smart, sumptuous and wonderfully indulgent, best watched on a wet Sunday with an entire box of chocolates.

By: Tom Huddleston

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Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday April 14 2017
Duration: 144 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Park Chan-wook
Screenwriter: Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-kyung
Cast: Ha Jung-woo
Kim Min-hee
Kim Tae-ri
Jo Jin-woong

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Ladyvp
Tastemaker

Stunning movie. Movie from the same director as old boy and is a visual treat (minus final torture scène but not so bad as old boy). The first third of the movie was not so great but the movie really starts making sense and it gets really interesting.

Lily C
tastemaker

Shocking and delightful, this brilliantly shot film is full of beauty, love and a fantastic twist or two.... This film is surprisingly erotic but extremely beautiful and innocent with it. Despite being subtitled throughout, the film is gripping and commands your full attention. The characters are believable and the style is quirky almost in a Tarantino-esque style. Fantastic film - worth seeing on the big screen to be fully absorbed by it.

Garvthefool

Cracking Korean movie. Very inventive with a couple of twists . Excellent acting by the leads.