The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden

Seen at Cannes International Film Festival 2016

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 April 2017

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-kyung

Based on the novel Fingersmith by: Sarah Waters

Cast: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Tae-ri

Original title: Agassi

South Korea 2016

145 mins

Park Chan-wook’s latest film is fuelled with surprises, and they are a pure joy to witness unfold.

Set in the Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1930s, a con man known as Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) involves the equally beautiful and talented Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) in his deceitful plan to marry a Japanese noblewoman (Kim Min-hee) in order to strip her of her inheritance. However, soon after Sookee has been employed as Lady Hideko’s maid, her criminal intents waver as she gradually falls in love with her beguiling mistress. While a perverted uncle uses Hideko for his own pleasures by making her read to him and his business partners from his massive collection of antique erotica, a secret passion develops between the two women, forcing them to choose between lies or love as the sexual tension reaches its climax.

As is the case with most of Park’s œuvre, nothing in The Handmaiden is as it seems. The plot is deliciously twisted, while perceptions and truths are consistently challenged. And as elaborate as it may seem at first sight, the story never unravels or confuses. Park has delivered a film that is fuelled with surprises, and they are a pure joy to witness unfold.

Following his first foray into Hollywood cinema with his impressive English language debut Stoker, the Korean director returns to his homeland with yet another masterwork. The Handmaiden is a gorgeously crafted tale of crooks and lovers, sex and lies, perversion and pleasure. The way Park uses colours and locations is pure cinematic seduction, luring the viewer into an intoxicating web of desires and deceptions that is impossible to resist.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our Cannes 2016 coverage.