The Handmaiden Film Review :
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Park Chan-Wook’s “The Handmaiden” is a love story, revenge thriller and puzzle film set in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It is voluptuously beautiful, frankly sexual, occasionally perverse and horrifically violent. At times its very existence feels inexplicable. And yet all of its disparate pieces are assembled with such care, and the characters written and acted with such psychological acuity, that you rarely feel as if the writer-director is rubbing the audience’s nose in excess of one kind or another. This is a film made by an artist at the peak of his powers: Park, a South Korean director who started out as a critic, has many great or near-great genre films, including “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Lady Vengeance” and “Thirst,” but this one is so intricate yet light-footed that it feels like the summation of his career to date.
It’s also as inspiring an example of East-West cross-pollination as cinema has given us, on par with Akira Kurosawa’s adaptations of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Dashiell Hammett in its ability to submerge a respected source while keeping its outlines visible. The plot faintly evokes many Gothic thrillers (chiefly “Rebecca,” “Jane Eyre” and “Gaslight”) and quite a few examples of film noir as well; Park’s source is Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, a 2002 novel set in Dickensian England that was previously made as a 2005 British miniseries. The result seems at once specifically English, specifically Korean and not of this astral plane; like Park’s best work, it’s an expressionistic, at times surreal movie that skates along the knife-edge of dreams. Every frame pulses with life, sometimes with blood.
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.