The Handmaiden (Agassi)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo:
Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller
Language: Korean with English subtitles
Country of Origin: South Korea 2016 145 mins. (18)
Official Competition 2016 Cannes International Film Festival
Inspired by Welsh writer Sarah Water's novel 'Fingersmith' and transposed from Victorian England to 1930s Korea under Japanese colonial rule, Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) teases with an indulgent, idiosyncratic, erotic revenge thriller that's never quite what it seems.
Pickpocket Soo-kee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired as a handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life in a large mansion with her sadistic uncle Kouzuki (Ha Jung-wo), a collector of art and rare erotic books. Soo-kee will help conman 'Count' Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce Hideko to elope, rob her of her inheritance and place her in an asylum. The ever confident 'Count' will pose as a painter from a noble family who's fallen on hard times, and forge illustrations for new books which Kouzuki will sell as originals but his spot is short lived when Soo-Lee is sexually drawn to Hideko.
Divided into three chapters which explore the lead characters, stylised with stunning sets that mix Japanese and British architecture, Park Chan-wook teases with scenes revisited time and again altering the context in a mesmerising character study that unfolds into a clever, elegant, witty, erotic lesbian romance with men seen as unwanted, impotent fools - Geisha clad Hideko reading erotic texts to uncle Kouzuki's black tie suited guests is a perfect set piece. Superbly composed images explore erotic sexual desires. Soo-kee's thimbled finger relief for Hideko's 'sharp tooth' tops the list and with her teaching Hideko what she might expect on the wedding night and trapeze games with a male dummy, this richly textured, seductive thriller is a hit the button, full on assault on the senses.