A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
‘The Handmaiden’ is a spectacular psychological thriller from Korean master Park Chan-wook, and it’s another film that marks him out as one of the finest directors operating today. The film is loosely based on Sarah Waters novel ‘Fingersmith’, with Park switching the setting from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule, and it’s an absolutely sumptuous and stylishly executed piece of work. The premise follows a woman who is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but unbeknownst to the heiress, the handmaiden is secretly involved in a plot to defraud her and steal her fortune. The story develops from this simple ‘conman’ setup into a film that is at times a melodrama, at times an erotically charged doomed romance story, and at all times an edge of your seat gripping and twisted thriller.
This is one of the best written films I’ve watched in some time, with a tight, sharp script that lets you in on just enough of each character’s motivations to make the mechanics of the story work, but not enough that how it all unfolds will seem obvious. It reminded me in some ways of Tarantino’s underrated masterpiece ‘The Hateful Eight’ in how it expertly toys with the audience’s expectations and has a perfect handle in how to dole out plot information to maximise the impact. The performances are outstanding throughout the cast, with Kim Tae-ri particularly magnetic as Sook-hee, the handmaiden, and I loved how the filmmaking style of splitting the main narrative into two parts allows us to follow both of the primary female characters, who both believe they’re on top of the situation throughout. As we’ve come to expect from the man behind ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Stoker’, the film looks completely gorgeous, and this is filmmaking from a director at the absolute peak of his powers.
‘The Handmaiden’ is an absorbing, gripping thriller from Park Chan-wook that had me in the palm of its hand from the outset. Combining handsome production design, stunning visuals and a magnificently tight script, this is an outstanding piece of filmmaking, and I highly recommend it.
*This was the director’s cut of ‘The Handmaiden’ as opposed to the standard cinematic release
Directed By: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook and Moon So-ri