The Feminist Con Erotic (Film Review: “The Handmaiden”)

A stylistic, sexually charged con story turned feminist revenge thriller set in 1930’s Japan-occupied Korea. A brutal love story that grips you from beginning to end and never lets go.


SnapShot Plot

The Handmaiden is both sensually alluring and alarmingly repulsive in its lavish depictions of cunning, wealth, erotic/romantic desire, deceit and depravity. It centers on an elaborate con in which a Korean grifter has chosen as his mark a wealthy young Japanese heiress named Hideko who lives on a secluded estate, under the thumb of her sexually perverted uncle. The uncle plans to exploit her by marrying her and taking her fortune. The grifter, who goes by the title, The Count has enlisted the support of a fellow pickpocket and swindler, a young angel-faced woman named Sook-Hee, sent to the household posing as the lady’s new handmaiden. Her mission? To play the meek and ignorant country bumpkin who nonetheless will gain Hideko’s confidence while urging her to fall in love with and marry the Count. After the marriage, the Count will dispense with his new bride in his own despicable way, and Sook-Hee will walk away from them both, generously compensated for her side of the action. The scheme goes sideways when the two women form an intense and erotic bond that instantly threatens to expose the con, and in the process forms a tenuous love triangle built on deceit and illicit passion. Halfway through the plot, everything is turned on its head, and the rest of the film replays the scenario from a new point of view, filling in the blanks until coming to its stunning, and ultimately morally satisfying conclusion.




Parting Shot

Director, Chan-wook Park was inspired by the novel, Fingersmith (written by Sarah Waters) and co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Waters and his partner, Seo-kyeong Jeong. The production took place in both South Korea and Japan, and both languages were spoken in the movie, with some versions containing English subtitles in white and yellow to signify when each tongue was being spoken. The Handmaiden swept the worldwide festival circuit when it was released in 2016, garnering 54 awards total in countless countries in which it was screened. The film transcends on every level, drawing the audience into a lush, dangerous and visually splendid world that, however foreign and exotic, rings with emotional and sensual truth beyond what could have been a mere bodice-ripper, lesbian or otherwise. 

The Handmaiden is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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