Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, adapted from Sarah Waters’ bestseller, Fingersmith, is a highly stylized erotic thriller which takes place in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. Scheduled to open in Canada on October 28, this two-and-a-half hour Korean and Japanese-language film is at once prim and carnal, unfolding in an opulent mansion set deep in a forest.
With one striking exception, the main characters are nasty and calculating, bound together in a devious plot to swindle a naive heiress of her inheritance.
Korean pickpocket Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), and her shady associate, Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), conspire to defraud Japanese aristocrat Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a fragile woman who lives in splendid isolation with her strange and tyrannical uncle (Cho Jin-woong), an obsessive book collector and aficionado of pornography.
Sookee poses as Lady Hideko’s maid, while Fujiwara pretends to be a wealthy count. As far as Sookee is concerned, Lady Hideko is little more than a dollar sign, someone to be exploited to the hilt. But as she gets to know her vulnerable and repressed employer, who’s about the same age, Sookee develops feelings for her. And as this transformation occurs, Sookee has a profound change of heart about Fujiwara’s scheme to marry Lady Hideko and relieve her of her fortune.
Their relationship, distant at first, is charged with tender love and sexual passion. As they grow more intimate, they engage in French kissing and fullblown sex. One of their love-making sessions rises to a breathless balletic level.
The film is visually sumptuous. The manor house, designed along British and Japanese lines, is architecturally original. The furnishings are opulent. The gardens are stunning. The costumes are rich and enveloping.
And the performances are quite impressive. These are actors who leave an impression.
Full of unsettling twists and turns, The Handmaiden unfolds in dizzying and disorienting fashion.