The Handmaiden Review

A grand narrative of love and betrayal, The Handmaiden appears to be a build-up and amalgamation of Park Chan-Wook’s earlier films. The provocation of Old Boy (2003), the cold sexual allure of Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) from Lady Vengeance (2005), and the sleekness of interior design from Stoker (2013) are all present here, wrapped up in the social and political context of The Handmaiden’s setting: a Japanese-occupied Korea. Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a Korean con man, hatches a plan to steal the inheritance of Izumi Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a Japanese woman. Fujiwara’s plan involves hiring Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con-woman herself, to go undercover at the Hideko residence under the guise of a new maid. Twists and turns are plenty in the story, driving the narrative into surprising moments, at times erotic, grotesque, violence, and perhaps all three at once. Chan-Wook feels himself here, and he directs with gusto. And yet, the sexual energy at the forefront of The Handmaiden never quite attains the transgressive quality Chan-Wook aims for and instead comes across as a director’s perversity—the film’s finale especially being laughably bad but defenders might call it camp; I see it, but I wouldn’t agree.

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