The Handmaiden is available in: Korean on Netflix Australia
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.
Those who are into the world cinema, particularly the Korean, knows Park Chan-wook very well. But if you don’t, then you must. His films are definitely for the grown ups. Like everybody else, my admiration for his work has started a decade ago with the film ‘Oldboy’. He had tried his luck in Hollywood with ‘Stoker’. Despite a good entertainer, it was criticised. I love Park Chan-wook doing hundred masterpieces like this in Korea than trying to do one in Hollywood. His ability to turn the good book into a great flick was phenomenal. Here it goes another one. This was based on the British novel ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters. The story of an orphan woman who assigned to be a maid for a young rich woman who is living under the shadow of her uncle since she has no parents.
Yeah, I was expecting it, but I did not think it would be another masterpiece from the director. I even thought the ratings could be exaggerated, and the reviews from his die hard fans like Nolan’s or QT’s fans does. The timeline of the story was prior to Second World War Korea under the Japan rule. A perfect setting for such theme. The film opened like it is an average film. That’s where all I got wrong. Or probably I judged it too soon. The storytelling was split into three parts and the first part was a bit mix of fun and like any film, introduction, the platform for the rest of the narration filled with surprises.
The young orphan Sook-hee was recruited by a thief who is planning to trick a young woman named Lady Hideko with all the wealth left behind by her parents. The only obstacle for him is her uncle, a guardian. So Sook-hee becomes close to her. More than she had expected, but their plan is working. Now they have to wait for the perfect moment for a perfect strike. When it arrives, an unexpected twist takes the tale to go back to where the film originally had started. But even further earlier and this time, the perspective of the story was from the Lady Hdeko.
> ❝So even if my love for you leads me to ruin, don’t pity me.❞
So, with that flashback, the second part begins. But literally it was a series of twist, that keep explaining us in another angle of the whole scenario I had witnessed in the previous part. Believe me, I have never seen such a long twist before. I was like unmoved for that entire segment. One of the best things I have ever in a film. The praise must go to the author, but the director and his actors as well did a fine job. There’s a twist in every scene. So, for that one must pay close attention to the first part, despite slow moving story.
But above all, what I’m surprised was I did not know it was a lesbian film. Moreover, I did not think it could have bold scenes for such theme. Everything seemed perfect. I mean the erotic parts are sensual, but very artistic than unnecessary disturbance. Mainly because of stronger hold of the story narration than anything else. Even the pace picks up, like a crazy speed. Everything about the film you would learn in this section. All the secrets of the past revealed and what might comes are still kept under mysterious for the third and final part.
The most awaited, the conclusion part begins forth. For everything we saw so far, what might come after makes this film at its best. Just like the mid part, this is also full of twists. Because it will going to tell who ends where and what they get. Over two hours long film, and every frame are worth. The casting was best and so the setting of the 1930s Korea. Especially I must applaud the filmmaker’s effort to turn the original setting from Europe to East Asia. It was great, but still now and then you can see the influence of the original source. I mean western culture, names, architect references which might have come from the book.
Not just the lesbian or a love triangle story, but something like a circle of love with deceive and defraud. You can notice that in the film poster with four main characters. So when it has a multiple strings attached, you could expect surprises/twists from each angle and it gives that more the convincingly. Put this into your must see list. This is not the first screen adaptation, but surely the best so far. Now we can expect a European or a Hollywood project in a big scale soon. Believe me the Oscars would pour in, because it’s that kind of story. Highly recommended!