With the release of 2002’s “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” Chan-wook Park got on a lot of people’s radar. The following year he made “Oldboy” and if you ever saw this epic example of the ‘revenge’ film, you always want to know what was next for him. Many films later, including “Stoker” a film he shot for an American studio, he is back with “The Handmaiden”. Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a small town crook that dabbles in quite a few things. When she is given the chance to take part of a plot to defraud a Japanese heiress she jumps at the chance. Sook-Hee is to be the handmaiden for Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), a lady who lives with her uncle who is obsessed with books. All goes well, as Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko seem to get along very well.
That changes when Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha) enterers into the picture, except you already know he is not a count. Fujiwara was the one who came up with the plan for Sook-Hee to become the handmaiden in the first place. He was going to use her proximity and influence to win the love of Lady Hideko and ultimately her fortune. The thing with this is nothing is as it really seems, when the story centers around Lady Hideko, they are all pieces to a greater puzzle. Everything seems to be going to plan, but what the true intentions are is what is the real mystery here.
Told in three parts, “The Handmaiden” weaves its tale in a very Hitchcockian kind of way. There is a air of suspense as when you pull at a string and watch everything unravel and you wait for the end result to figure out what just happened. Min-Hee Kim and Kim Tar-ri are mesmerizing as the two leads as they draw you in, showing you more and more as the film goes. This is not just a film about deceit; it’s a film about class and ethnicity as the film takes place while Japan occupied Korea. The screenplay written by Park and Seo-Kyung Chung is an adaption of Sarah Waters’s 2005 novel “Fingersmith.” The early part of the film may not feel like a Park film, as little pieces of humor lighten up the mood, but as things go, the film becomes less about star crossed lovers and more about revenge.
“The Handmaiden” is as beautiful to watch, as it is to read. The film spoken in both Japanese and Korean have the languages told apart by the color of the text in the subtitles. Park adds another masterpiece to his resume and reminds you how he is one of the better filmmakers out there today. “The Handmaiden” is a beautiful piece of art that will have you entranced as you try and figure out the brush strokes of this perfectly made film.