Handmaiden (아가씨 / Agassi) is a 2016 South-Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook and starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo and Cho Jin-woong. Grossing over 37 million USD, worldwide, Handmaiden opened to critical acclaim and a Palme d’Or.
Genre: Psychological, Romance, Thriller, Erotica
The story begins in an orphanage in Japan-occupied Korea, where a conman hires a girl servant to serve as a Handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee) whom he wishes to marry and then confine in a madhouse later in a bid to inherit her fortune. The servant hired is Sook-hee, played by Kim Tae-ri – naive, innocent and offered a percentage of the profits, she readily jumps at it to escape life at the orphanage as a nurse.
But Lady Hideko lives under the careful eye of her older Uncle Kouzuki who has other plans for her future. Under the guise of “Count Fujiwara”, the conman then proceeds to court her. However, loyalties change, deals are made, and the ending slaps everyone in the face.
Here are the ingredients of a fairy tale – we have the rich heiress – for whom beauty is a vice, we have the (evil) uncle who uses her to fulfill his wishes, a handsome Count who is actually a hoodlum in costume and instead of the Prince on a white horse – we have the lady’s Handmaiden (minor spoiler hehe) – initially also a part of the Count’s plan.
The Final Verdict
“Even listening to the same story, people imagine different things,” a character warns us, so deep into the movie that the line plays not like a revelation, but another confirmation that Park Chan Woo is but a virtuoso in this genre.
The Handmaiden is a movie that unravels within itself. Told in three parts with the same story being seen from three different perspectives, and each one adding a new layer to the already rich fabric, the movie is an emporium of visual delights, intricate plots and twisted characters.
Based on Sarah Waters 2002 novel, Fingersmith, the movie has a decidedly happier ending and chops off a major portion of the plot for the sake of Mr. Park’s compulsive attention to details. Everything inside the manor and outside is made to enchant and in the rare moment that you do manage to look away from the screen, you can only marvel at what a masterpiece Park has created. The camera lingers on the minutest of details (the rustling of silk, or a slow parade down Kim MinHee’s back) and runs on wide expanses of grassy plains just as carefully.
Intermittently, there are dialogues recited in another scene which serve as narration on another. Several separate such recitals run over a cascade of images, brilliantly composed for a very wide frame by Chung Chung-hoon, and backed by Cho Young-wuk’s hypnotically repetitive yet rapturously melodramatic score (cue, the portion where they run to freedom or destroy the library).
The movie is about storytelling in it most’s vulnerable form – the cinematography is outstanding with wide angle views of fields that signify freedom and closed views of the quarters in which the Handmaiden and her Lady live. The soundtrack, especially the song at the end “The Sound of You Coming” and “My Tamako, My Sookee” are bound to leave a lasting impression. Check it out below:
Bordering on psychological erotica, the story, like the movie is disturbingly beautiful and a must watch for anyone looking for a good thriller. As expected from the synopsis, it deals with several sensitive cases including physical abuse and suicide.
Foxy Turnips gives it 9 turnips out of 10!
It has an 8.1/10 on IMDB with over 78,000 votes.
If you haven’t seen it yet, decide by watching it here:
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