The Handmaiden is an intensely erotic South Korean thriller directed by Park Chan-wook. The film is adapted from Welsh writer, Sarah Waters’ novel, Fingersmith, with the setting changed from Victorian era Britain to 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation.
The film follows Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean woman who’s hired as the handmaiden of young Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) on a secluded estate, but who is secretly complicit in a conman’s elaborate plot to steal her employer’s inheritance.
The Handmaiden is a complex puzzle, and if you’re like me, it will keep you fumbling until the very end. Nothing and no one are what they seem here. Crucial scenes are revisited again and again, each time with a new revelation or shift in perspective that causes you question everything you’ve surmised so far.
The film’s most erotic segments are deeply sensual and admittedly brazen, but purposefully so. Each subtle gesture and laboured breath hints at what’s to come next. These shared moments are not used as pure titillation, they’re imperative in propelling the characters and their connections.
Beyond the abundance of betrayals and triple-crosses, the unabashed sex scenes, and Park’s calculated twists and turns lies the final, delicate sentiment that makes all the prior guesswork in The Handmaiden worthwhile. Just don’t watch it with your mom, okay.