7. The Handmaiden. Park Chan-wook. South Korea.
Inspired by the 2002 novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which was more directly adapted by the BBC in 2005 miniseries starring Sally Hawkins, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden shifts its tale to Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s where a young pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) and a dashing con man (Ha Jung-woo) plot together to swindle a wealthy, reclusive Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee). What follows is a pulpy, steamy bout of stylized lesbian intrigue. The Handmaiden is basically a Hollywood noir about a quartet of duplicitous criminals with constantly shuffling allegiances and betrayals seen through a quintessentially astute and mannered British perspective, dressed up as a glossy Korean S&M melodrama.
In his first feature following his tepid Hollywood debut, Stoker (which, at least, featured a great performance by Nicole Kidman, if nothing else), The Handmaiden shows Chan-wook utilizing all of his strengths as a director without the emphasis on violence that has dominated most of his previous work. The Handmaiden certainly has its share of perversions and absurdity, but it showcases a less brutal Chan-wook at the top of his game. While its final act isn’t quite as strong as its wickedly entertaining first two, I had more fun watching The Handmaiden than anything else I saw in the theatre this year.
The Handmaiden premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was released theatrically earlier this year in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures/Amazon Studios.
With: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Jo Jin-woong, Moon so-ri