The Handmaiden
Amazon Studios/ Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Grade: A
Director: Park Chan-wook
Written by: Seo-Kyung Chung, Chan-wook Park; Based on “Fingersmith”, a novel by Sarah Waters
Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-hee, Cho Jin-woong
Release Date: October 21, 2016

“Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream” sings Buttercup in Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, “H.M.S. Pinafore;”

“A virtuous woman obeyed men throughout her life: in youth, she obeyed her father; when married, she obeyed her husband; if her husband died, she was subject to her son.” As per Korean Confucian standards

Director Park Chan-wook and writer Seo-Kyung Chung must contemplated thought the same while writing the screen play for The Handmaiden, or Ah-Ga-Ssi. The film, which was adapted to the screen from a 2002 Victorian novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, is a three-part multilayered story of a servant girl, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), who aspires for a better life by moving to Japan in the 1930s while falling prey to a Korean con-man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo).

Part One is told in a straightforward manner, showing Sook-hee’s arrival at an upscale Japanese mansion, where she will sleep and fulfill every wish of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). We are also introduced to an older Uncle Kouzuke (Cho Jin-Woong), who has a large basement library of pornographic books and intends to marry the much younger orphaned Lady Hideko, to inherit her wealth. Part Two shows a different side of Lady Hideko, no longer the innocent virginal character as portrayed before, but a scheming woman who will do anything to gain financial freedom, even though it may lead to Sook-hee’s incarceration. Part Three shows the women’s ultimate adventure while escaping the clutches of upper class Japanese society to freedom in Shanghai, which was, a bustling, port city in the Republic of China thus attracted many foreigners. This complicated plot takes place in Korea, which was under Japanese rule from 1910 through 1945, and Japan.

Director Park Chan-wook was blessed with an extraordinary cast including: Ha Jun-woo as Count Fujiwara, Kim Tai-ri as Sook-hee, Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko and Cho Jin-woong as Uncle Kouzuki, all play their parts with a layer of sarcasm laced with humor. If hangings, body mutilations and lesbian sex acts are not your cup of tea then stay away from this charming cinematic creation.

Production values are great as female performers are fitted with elegant European and traditional Japanese/Korean costumes, designed by Sang-gyong Jo. A traditional Asian make-up and hair was designed by Jong-hee Song.

The Handmaiden was shot in Japan and South Korea by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, showing beautiful exteriors of outdoor Japanese gardens and interiors of a large Japanese mansion, decorated in British/Asian styles.

The film will be a treat for any cinema aficionado looking for an extraordinary 145-minute costume-historic comedy-drama.

Unrated. 145 minutes. © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer

Story: A
Acting: A
Technical: A
Overall: A


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