The Handmaiden is a beautifully crafted adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith expertly directed by Park Chan-wook who decided to transplant the story from Victorian England to the early 1900’s in Korea under Japanese rule.
The film is an erotic psychological thriller following the story of a young girl, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), who goes to work as a handmaiden for noble Japanese woman Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee); who is heiress to a large inheritance. The story follows the people trying to obtain this fortune including her own uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), who plans to marry her and Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman who also has plans to court the Lady. The true story is that of the relationship between the two women amongst the scheming and mystery.
The film mirrors the book in its storytelling, separating the narrative into parts that give insights into the different characters. The film is told in three acts, distinctly divided, and each act builds on the previous one by giving us flashbacks of scenes we’ve already seen but in a different context or from a different perspective. It’s a beautifully subtle and nuanced way of storytelling; an incredibly clever way of telling a story without ever making the viewer feel like they’ve been mislead or lied to. It’s compelling and tense yet it’s never rushed. Every scene, every line of dialogue, every shot is purposeful. At it’s heart, The Handmaiden is a love story behind the mask of a mystery-thriller. There’s layer upon layer of plot and character making it such a compelling watch.
The Handmaiden is beautifully shot. The translation from Victorian England to Korea is great, offering a rich tapestry of culture, imagery, and style to the story. The soundtrack is also stunning, providing the perfect backdrop to this love story.