The Handmaiden Movie Review

The Handmaiden (2016), directed by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame, is a South Korean erotic psychological thriller that is based on the novel by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, Fingersmith. In The Handmaiden, which takes place in a Japanese-occupied Korea, a pickpocket named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired by conman Count Fujiwara (Jung woo-ha) to assist him in seducing a Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who is within the grasp of her controlling and possessive Uncle Kouzaki (Jin-woong Jo), and then commit her to a mental asylum to obtain her inheritance. However, after moving into Lady Hideko's mansion and becoming her personal maid, Sook-hee falls in love with Lady Hideko and begins to feel apprehensive about going through with this plan, which will ultimately hurt the one person she has come to relate to in this world. When I decided to watch this movie on Netflix last year, I honestly didn't have any high expectations. I was just looking for something to watch in order to pass time, so I was delightfully surprised that day to uncover a cinematic gem that kept me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the movie. The music, cinematography, and editing come together to tell the story of Lady Hideko and Sook-hee in three parts, each more revealing than the last. I was mostly floored by the layers of complexity that the two main characters showcased that continued to be unraveled with each part. Sook-hee, who was adopted and raised by a poor family of pick-pockets and thieves, is quite quick-witted and mouthy, however, she often finds herself drawn to and giving into her emotions and desires, especially when concerning Lady Hideko. On the other hand, Lady Hideko, who has lived in seclusion with her uncle ever since she was young, proves to be far more intelligent and calculating than she lets on with her innocent and vulnerable exterior. The tension and chemistry that builds between Lady Hideko and Sook-hee also feels genuine and real, which is thanks to the superb and unforgettable performances by Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri.

I personally believe that The Handmaiden (2016) is one of the most memorable and most beautifully written and directed movies that has been released in the last few years. While it is definitely not a movie that can be appreciated by everyone, there are so many aspects of this movie that can be appreciated not only on the level of a movie critic but also that of a casual movie-goer. It is ultimately a love story about two individuals who, even though they have been born into two completely different worlds, find that they relate in more ways that one. If you are uncomfortable with watching movies with subtitles, explicit and sometimes excessive sex scenes, violence and cruelty, and cursing, you should probably skip out on watching this movie. However, if you enjoy complex characters, tragic backstories, romance, and thrillers, you will certainly find yourself on the edge of your seat watching The Handmaiden.