Thursday, October 18The Voice of London

Sex, Lies and Octopi: The Handmaiden Review

From the director of Oldboy comes an erotic thriller of forbidden love between a lady and her maid.

Reporter: Chelsea Jobe | Sub-Editor: Martina Di Gregorio

Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie
Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie

Acclaimed director Park Chan-wook leaves behind his vengeance trilogy to explore female sexuality in his film adaptation of Fingersmith, a crime novel by Sarah Waters.

The Handmaiden is a film about deception and hidden identities, an outcome of two cultures colliding. Replacing the backdrop of Victorian era England with South Korea during the Japanese occupation, Park sheds light on a moment in history the West may not be aware of.

Following the three-part structure, young pickpocket Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) is recruited to be a handmaiden for Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a beautiful Japanese heiress. Hideko lives with her Japanese sympathizer uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a Korean man who adopted an ideology of “Korea is ugly and Japan is beautiful.” He has alternative motives for keeping Hideko close by his side but so does Sook-Hee and conman Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo).

They are part of an elaborate scheme to trick Lady Hideko into marrying Count Fujiwara, who is pretending to be Japanese, for her inherited fortune and then quickly send her to a mental asylum.

Promised jewels and a cash sum, Sook-hee agrees and is sent to the mansion to deceive the emotionally fragile Hideko.

Instead, she falls in love with the heiress.

Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie
Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie

The budding romance between Lady Hideko and her maid is compelling as the sexual tension between the female leads is portrayed through intimate scenes. Whilst smoothing Hideko’s sharp tooth with thimble, the camera wanders over her body in cinematic perfection. Even as a male director, Park focuses on the innocence of discovering female sexuality.

What the audience is lead to believe in the first half of the film gets overturned when they find out why Lady Hideko was confined to a life inside the mansion. The re-telling of events from the eyes of Hideko is disturbing and uncomfortable as she is oppressed by her black-tongued pervert uncle from an early age, who has a fetish for Japanese erotic literature.

Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie
Credit: Twitter @HandmaidenMovie

Park hits a rough spot during the middle section of the film as the pacing turns painfully slow. But this is caused by the need to create suspense and leave the audience curious to what happens next.

The Handmaiden shares similar themes of love, betrayal and female empowerment like Stoker, but Park Chan-wook delves deep into them in his latest psychological thriller.

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden was shown at Hackney Picturehouse as part of London’s East Asia Film Festival.