Film Review: The Handmaiden

From director Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden is a South Korean psychological thriller which is inspired by the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, changing the setting from Victorian-era Britain to 1930s-era colonial Korea. The film tells the tale of the young Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) who lives on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman, Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim), who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but who is secretly involved in a conman’s (Jung-woo Ha) plot to defraud her of her large inheritance.


From the director of Old Boy, Park Chan-Wook uses the power of narrative to tell an unpredictable story of passion and betrayal. It will leave you feeling shocked by its maze-like structure, impressed by its compelling exploration of gender and social class, inspired by its beauty, and also uncomfortable in its lustful perversions.

On first viewing, the complex plot will ensure that you’re unable to take your eyes off the screen, as twist after twist takes you on a psychological journey that you will instantly want to watch again, even with its 145-minute length. The story unfolds in a way that leaves you speechless, but it only improves on repeat viewings as you begin to see the ways that the intricately intertwined layers of dark subplots and conspiracies unravel.

Highly sensualised and fully charged with emotions, The Handmaiden is a film for the senses. From the use of magnified sounds to the fluid movement of the camera, you can hear every single touch between Hideko and Sook-Hee. Its hypnotic character chemistries spark every part of your consciousness, leaving the hairs on your arms standing upright and an unshakable sense of arousal tingling through your veins.

Its seductive storytelling structure will grip you completely, and so will the astounding visuals, with the 1930s costumes and set design beautifully setting the scene for this erotic yet disturbing gothic romance.

The Handmaiden is not a film that you will quickly forget, nor will you want to. The power of Min-hee Kim’s and Tae-ri Kim’s lust for one another is both thrilling and enchanting, as Chan-wook spins a gorgeous web of intrigue that will trap you in its lucid details.

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