South Korea 2016
Opening January 5, 2017
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Writing credits: Seo-Kyung Chung, Chan-wook Park
Principal actors: Min-hee Kim, Kim Tae-ri, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Sensual. All the senses are awoken in director-co-writer Chan-wook Park’s film based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith. It is told in three parts, from three points-of-view. Sook-Hee/Okja (Tae-ri) is handpicked with a specific role to play, arrives at the estate in early morning. She is the new handmaiden for a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim); Okja quickly ascertains the orphan’s fragility. Hideko’s kindnesses are a distinct contrast to Uncle Kouzuki’s (Jo) cold demeanor. Hideko’s guardian controls the house and all within, his beloved library, and grounds. The young women’s mutual appreciation and newfound fondness intensifies. Then, an acquaintance of Uncle’s visits; Count Fujiwara (Ha) thinks his ulterior motive is brilliantly thought out. But, he is unaware of the plot within his plot.
By using the technique showing three points-of-view, Park increases elements of intrigue. The screenplay however, deviates from the book and similarities stop after the first part. The cast compellingly depicts their duplicitous characters; Giles Nuttgens aesthetic, tricky cinematography and Jae-Bum Kim and Sang-beom Kim adept editing compliment. Yeong-wook Jo’s period music is as luscious as Seong-hie Ryu’s production design. Whereas sexual innuendos are present in Park’s past films, The Handmaiden contains explicitly erotic scenes, so be warned. Irrelevant is the drawn out violence in the third section. Unfortunately, the length, sex, and extraneous violence render sensuous pleasure insipid, undermining the film’s potential. 145 minutes (Marinell H.)