The Handmaiden (2017) review

The latest instalment by Chan-Wook Park (who directed the Vengeance Trilogy and Stoker (2013) to name a few) is an intricate story of love, deceit and consequence. There are hints of living life to your own expectation fitted into the theme.

The film is split into three parts. Part one starts off in a poor settlement in Korea in the 1930s, during a Japanese occupation. A widowed heiress has sent to employ a new handmaiden - Sook-Hee - from this settlement under recommendation from a Count. The opening scene is already harrowing as the rain pelts the dirt roads of the settlement, as what seems to be Sook-Hee's family saying good-bye. We follow Sook-Hee's story to the estate where Lady Hideko lives with her uncle Kouzuki, and Sook-Hee getting acquainted, quite comedically, with Lady Hideko and the strict rules of the estate. During this period of the film, you can see the start of a relationship between Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko as well as Park's grandiose designs come into play. We learn that Uncle Kouzuki has a love for books as well as his niece as he is seeking to marry her at some point in the future - this though hangs over Lady Hideko constantly. We also see the introduction into a very mischievously charming and handsome Count, the one who recommended Sook-Hee, and the development of what seems to be a relationship between Lady Hideko and the Count. Up until this point in the film, everything seems normal. As soon as the Count has been introduced, the story begins it's intricate and brilliant story of deceit.

The Count and the Handmaiden turn out to be part of a crime 'family'. Count Fujiwara is a Con artist whereas Sook-Hee is a pickpocket by 'trade' but picked up a love for spotting fake coin/jewel/precious metals. It's the point when the Count requests Sook-Hee's help that we delve into their background, where we find that the Count is not officially a Count, but his credentials have been forged and that he has been playing the Uncle for a while now and to get the Lady's fortune they both have to make Lady Hideko fall in love with the Count enough to run away and elope, and then send her into a mental institution where the fortune would be granted to the Count and then split to everyone in the 'family'. Simple, until emotions get in the way.

As the plan progresses, not only does the Count begin to fall for Lady Hideko, so does Sook-Hee, where there has been a few erotic scenes to solidify that love. Sook-Hee becomes irrational over the progression of the 'false' love between the other two and starts acting up over it, but still goes ahead with the plan. The first of many of the bigger twists come when they arrive at the mental institute. Part two follows the hidden build up behind the twist at the end of part one, and shows off the complexity of the film and story itself. Revolving more around the Count grafting the Uncle and working Lady Hideko as well as Sook-Hee.

Part three begins after another shocking twist in the story, progresses the story to an uplifting ending and also explains the build-up towards the third twist. It shows the consequences of each characters deceit, albeit fruitful or not.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the film, we got to see the 'shock' factor that Chan-Wook Park enjoys putting into his films as well as a well written story (inspired by "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters), which was very well acted. The direction and cinematography were brilliant and caught each scene beautifully. I personally felt that Part one went on longer than perhaps necessary, but understood to get the base of the story in place would take a while. Other than that, the pace was perfect. A great film for any fan of Chan-Wook Park and anyone who enjoys a good story driven thriller.