THE HANDMAIDEN – Review *****


There were those who thought the erotic thriller was on its way out, but boy, were they wrong. From the best world cinema – Korean, that is – comes the new movie by enfant terrible Park Chan-Wook, known to the mainstream audiences as “that guy who directed the good Oldboy”. The Handmaiden, which Korea didn’t want to present as their official submission to the Academy Awards, as it would be unfair for all the other competitors (good girl Korea) is loosely based on Sarah Waters’s book Fingersmith. But even if you have read the book (and saw the 2005 BBC two-part adaptation of the same name), prepare to have your chin drop to your feet in this twist and turn story.

Korea, 1930s. Small time crook Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired by “Count” Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to help him seduce rich and shy Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives with her uncle in a secluded countryside estate. Sook-hee, working undercover as a handmaiden, soon becomes close to Hideko t, but as time goes by, she finds herself growing too fond of the reserved orphan.


With the mesmerizing cinematography of Oldboy’s Chung-hoon Chung, The Handmaiden is pure visual porn, and that’s even in the scenes without explicit sex. We expect no less from master of composition and storytelling Chan-Wook – after all, no one does narrative rhythm and tension like him – and though we are missing here the great fight scenes of his Vengeance Trilogy, well, we have instead a bathtub scene that will definitely go into the annals of the History of Cinema, right next to the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct and the party at Eyes Wide Shut.


The less you know about the film, the more likely you are to enjoy it, so if you haven’t seen it yet, JUST STOP READING NOW. This triple-cross story (we warned you, stop reading already) just raised the bar even higher to all future films by Chan-Wook (as if that was ever possible, amiright?). The unreliable narrators, a string-heavy, incessantly minimalist soundtrack, the repeated story from different point of views, Min-hee Kim’s acting that goes from naïve girl to full on pervert manipulative dominatrix in less time than it takes you to read her name, all this makes The Handmaiden an incredible narrative rollercoaster – you’ll barely notice time going by, and its two hours and a half will fly by faster than certain Walking Dead episodes. Definitely worth a big screen check in its director’s, full smut version.


The Handmaiden is in UK cinemas from 14th April 2017

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.