Director PARK Chan-wok has a cult following history with his Korean revenge movie trilogy. “The Handmaiden”, written by Welsh novelist, Sarah Waters brings Korean-Japanese intrigue that unfolds exquisitely and higher budget with the injection of Amazon Prime funding.
High or low budget, Park knows how to keep the viewer engaged even with subtitles that may otherwise feel strange. Character motives are clear, often taboo and not fully understood until the very end.
Setting the stage
The movie is split into 3 parts giving it a 2 hour 24-minute runtime and each section unfolds in Japanese occupied 1930’s Korea.
In "The Handmaiden" we meet career charlatan, Count Fujiwara (played by Ha Jung-woo ) who enlists members of a low-level family of thieves to swindle a seemingly sheltered and naive heiress, Lady Hideko out of her fortune.
The audience is along for the ride as the detailed plan is revealed to young Sook-hee who is promised a great fortune for her family -and for herself- if she plays along by becoming the handmaiden to Lady Hideko.
The estate of young Lady Hideko is managed by her eccentric uncle Kouzuki, who we learn is a great lover of books. He has Hideko taught to read aloud at an early age and this all but rules her life until the swindlers come into her world. The home is unusual in that it has both English and Japanese architecture which is unheard of even for the most privileged. It has been custom built for the family business which we learn of in detail as the movie unfolds. So do the details of Hideko’s past growing up there.
Sinister be thy name
Just as part two begins the plot twists unfold deliciously. Sinister turns begin, motives shift, feelings emerge and alliances re-form.
There is another character, arguably the main one. It is the nudity, sexuality and explicit depiction of pornography that are the real center of this story, and essential in establishing motives while also displaying Japanese and Korean cultures.
Beautifully acted, shot, edited and wrapped up like a satisfying 10-course meal Park really delivers. In the current #metoo climate, it feels like the right time to watch. A real Park masterpiece