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Review: The Handmaiden – “Breathtaking and bold cinema”

A sensual saga, with dark undertones, The Handmaiden is another impressive story from director Park Chan-Wook – though his fans are likely to be very surprised if they go in expecting another Oldboy.

When a thief is sent to infiltrate a wealthy house, by posing as a handmaiden to the woman who lives there, she thinks she is in control. Yet there are numerous other players involved and nothing is as it seems, for anyone.

With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce and bilk a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her inheritance.

To give away any real detail about the plot would do the film a great disservice as the discoveries along the way are all part of the viewing experience. Adapted from the Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith, this is a story as beautifully woven together as it is shot. Every frame is delicious, bursting with colour and awakening the senses. And the performances are completely sublime, especially that of the two female leads, Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee.

The Handmaiden is dark and complex, exploring backstory and influence and mixing it with familial and societal expectation. Full of creepy family members, new-found desires and a beautiful array of costumes and landscapes, this is breathtaking and bold cinema.

Of course, this being a Park Chan-Wook film, there’s also some pretty intense violence in there for good measure.

As this is written by Jeong Seo-kyeong, it also falls under the #52FilmsByWomen challenge. Check out the other films on the list so far here.

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