Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook
Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook, Novel by Sarah Waters
The Handmaiden (Agassi) is a sumptuously mounted and kinky erotic love story set in the 1930s Orient. Neatly sidestepping tawdriness the writer take the original text and flip it over into a tale of three parts, told from differing viewpoints that gradually morph into the realms of fantasy in a challenging re-telling.
Sarah Waters’ original novel Fingersmith tells the story of a girl who leaves poverty in Victorian England using her skills as an expert pickpocket to gain fame and fortune, eventually getting her comeuppance at the hands of a wealthy swindler after serving in the household of a Japanese heiress. We first get a glimpse of young Sookee (played by newcomer Kim Tae-ri) in the slums where she grew up surrounded by unwanted babies. Korea is under Japanese rule and she is sent to the mansion of Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a black-tongued old man who specialises in book dealing. It soon becomes clear that she is to be the maid of his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee – Right Now, Wrong Then). In truth, Sookee is a crafty petty thief sent by a pimp-style gangster called The Count (Ha Jung-woo) to help him marry the young heiress and gain control of her fortune. This is all revealed in a series of fast-moving scenes while we’re still reading the subtitles. Hideko seems to be a naive, virginal orphan who knows nothing of the real world outside her sheltered kingdom. But it soon emerges that her nonce of an uncle has groomed her from childhood to be his companion after driving her aunt (Moon So-ri) insane and later hanging herself from a cherry tree and haunting the mansion. But the Count suddenly appears presenting himself as a putative suitor from a noble family who is to add value to Kouzuki’s book collection with illustrations.
There is great deal of languorous heavy petting here between both men and women in scenes reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade’s “Crimes of Love” and this is all cleverly achieved by filming the sequences from different angles. The denouement is a complex affair in this lavish epic which is mostly filmed in the dark interiors of the mansion, although it occasionally breaks out in to some glorious surroundings of a nearby lake and shimmering landscapes. A real arthouse treat that needs to be seen again to fully appreciate the intricate plotting. MT
NOW ON RELEASE FROM 14 APRIL 2017