Tag Archives: Victorian

The Handmaiden

6 Nov

Park Chan-wook’s sensual psychodrama “The Handmaiden” begins in the epic bowels of conflict and strife, but it’s truly a cloistered affair where nothing is as it seems, growing increasingly more constricted over its nearly two and half hours. It holds its rapturous tease over us with scrumptious visuals, artful poise and dips into kink and gore that would give the Marquis de Sade reason to smile. Most remarkable, however, is that Park, best know for the violent tale of liberation and atonement, “Oldboy” (2003), part of his infamous “Vengeance Trilogy,” transposes Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a Victorian-era feminist romance, to Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It’s not the first time the Seoul-based auteur has adopted foreign-penned work – his 2009 vampire tale of self-repression, “Thirst,” was in fact based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin.”

102716i-the-handmaiden-bThe term “fingersmith” refers to either a midwife or a pickpocket. Given the film’s title you might assume the former, and we start off by meeting Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean who tends to infants whose fates are more likely dictated by matters of profit than the kindness of charity. But the reality is it’s both – and fingers in general play a large part throughout. Sook-Hee’s plucked from among the nannies by the dashing Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives in a stately manse that would be a perfect fit for a Merchant-Ivory project. As quaint as this all is, we learn quickly that all is not that tidy and proper; Fujiwara isn’t Japanese, or even a nobleman – just a shrewd opportunist trying to get ahead during tumultuous times, and Sook-Hee, for all her nurturing, wholesome innocence, has a past of using her dexterously light fingers for illicit gains. Continue reading