South Korean Director, Park Chan-wook, is well known for pushing the boundaries of film making with his vengeance trilogy: Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and experimentation with the horror genre with his psychological thriller, Stoker and vampire film, Thirst, and The Handmaiden is no exception. When I learnt that his recent cinematic offering was going to be an adaptation of the 2002 lesbian-romance novel, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, I immediately booked tickets in advance at my frequently visited cinema. I was excited and intrigued to see what Park Chan-Wook had created and the final product was better than I originally hoped for.In Water’s novel, an orphaned thief plays a crucial role in a scheme to seduce a wealthy heiress in order to steal her fortune, posing as her Handmaiden. In this adaptation, with the screenplay written by Park Chan-wook’s returning collaborator, Seo-kyeong Jeong, we are placed into a 1930’s Japanese occupied Korea, where Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is recruited by the handsome conman “Count” Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to serve Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) inside her elaborate home.
Park Chan-wook’s casting of his two female leads, who ultimately fall in love with one another, is compelling to watch as their mutual attraction develops throughout the film. Sook-hee is someone who is timid, yet attentive, while Lady Hideko is both clever and reserved when it comes to showing her emotions, making her appear intriguing. This on- screen chemistry between the two characters is what adds emotional weight to the Handmaiden’s several romantic scenes.Fans of Park Chan-wook’s previous films will be familiar with his trademark direction and style. This world is full of beauty and immortality, and this is present in every detail; The house has gothic style rooms and corridors, displaying Uncle Kouzuki’s (Jin-woong Jo) wealth; the gardens are full of cherry blossomed trees, which later plays scene to a character’s demise and the library holds Uncle Kouzuki’s personal and large collection of rare, pornographic literature, in which Lady Hideko is forced to read aloud during private auctions to an audience of rich, well dressed men. The Handmaiden is a wonderful film, and a great adaptation of the source material that influenced it.
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