Film Review: The Handmaiden


In association with Glasgow Film Theatre

Park Chan-wook’s new film relocates Sarah Waters’ Victorian crime novel Fingersmith to 1930s Korea, which at the time was under Japanese rule. This period drama tells the story of Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), her suitor Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) and her new handmaiden Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) in a Rashomon-esque fashion. First we are shown events from the perspective of Sook-hee, then of Hideko and briefly, but also intermittently, of Fujiwara. When Sook-hee comes to the mansion of Kozuki, an elderly Korean with a love of erotic fiction, a hatred of his own country and a basement which inspires terror into anyone who sets foot in it, she is introduced to the buildings and its inhabitants, including Hideko. On Sook-hee’s first night in the house she comforts Hideko after a nightmare and from this point onwards the two women seem to share a connection – one which only grows stronger throughout the film – but the arrival of the count, who woos Hideko at every opportunity, appears to make Sook-hee bitter and jealous.

However, early flashbacks reveal the true, and more malicious, motivations of Sook-hee in taking the job. The audience begins to pity Hideko, who seems so naive and innocent that she is unable to see that she is being duped. Yet later, details are given about her own past, and also that of Fujiwara, and the waters become so murky that making moral judgements on the three protagonists is an impossible task. Here, just as with his previous films, Park Chan-wook plays with the concepts of memory and perspective to keep the audience at once interested and off balance.

The Handmaiden is a sensuous and stylistic story of love and abuse, trust and betrayal, told in complex fashion and yet always clear in its storytelling. Visually stunning, the film has a dreamlike quality that makes its 145 minute run time float by, and Park Chan-wook has proved once again that he is undoubtedly one of the great filmmakers of modern times.

[Tim Abrams – @timabrams123]

The film will be screened at Glasgow Film Theatre until the 20th of April. Tickets available here.

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