Nagisa Oshima, a Japanese director, made the erotic classic In the Realm of the Senses in 1976. It is known as the film that made auto-erotic strangling popular in the US. Will The Handmaiden, by Korean director Park Chan-wook, be able to say anything similar? This movie is so exciting and sexy that it might become a worldwide trend to straighten your lover’s crooked tooth in the bathtub with a finely serrated thimble. It’s a weird scene that almost sounds like a bl*wjob. It looked so amazing on the screen that I almost forgot to breathe.
Park has been making violent movies for a long time. His brutal Vengeance trilogy, which includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, is well-known. Now, he has adapted the British author Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith with the help of co-writer Jeong Seo-Kyong. He has moved the story of crime, love, and betrayal from Victorian London to colonial Japan-ruled Korea in the 1930s.
From this source material, he makes a horribly delicious suspense thriller that can be compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques. It’s a drama of double-crosses and triple-crosses, with some head-spinning point-of-view shifts that make Park’s camera the least reliable narrator possible. Halfway through the movie, there is a whiplash twist, a spectacular turn that turns everything on its head and restarts the story so that the audience can fully enjoy the taste of treachery.
There are three great actors in Park: “Count” Fujiwara, played by Ha Jung-woo, is a devilishly handsome career criminal and fake nobleman. He convinces Kim Tae-character, RI’s pickpocket Sook-hee, to pose as a handmaiden in the home of a hideous plutocrat and book dealer. This horrible old man makes his niece Hideko, who is played by Kim Min-hee and is an heiress, read pornography to his dinner-jacketed guests in order to get them to buy his illegal rare books. Sook-job hee’s is to convince Hideko to accept the Count’s secret marriage proposal and run away when the time is right. For this plan to work, the handmaiden’s presence as a chaperone is essential. The fake Count says that once he has drained the bank account of his new bride, Hideko, he will put her in a mental hospital and give Sook-hee some of her jewels. But Hideko and Sook-hee are attracted to each other in a very strong way. Who is being charmed?
Kim Min-hee, who is very pretty, does a great job as Hideko, with all of her gamine innocence, petulance, and sense of entitlement, and Kim Tae-Ri does a great job as the handmaiden, who is smart, worldly, and good at lying, but also has a romantic streak that you wouldn’t expect. Ha Jung-woo does a great job of strutting and swaggering as the con artist and predator. His cocky attitude is really funny.
The film is full of eroticism. It’s in the surfaces and textures, the rituals of teacher and student (the Count’s visits are a lie because he says he’s teaching her to paint), and of course, the secret sex theatre of mistress and maidservant. Sook-hee is allowed to take off Hideko’s clothes in her bedroom, and Hideko, pretending to be the servant, takes off Sook-clothes-hee’s in return. In the style of classic Victorian erotica, the handmaid shows her stunned mistress in bed what her wedding night will be like.
The Handmaiden is about p*rnography, but it’s the kind of pornography that was popular in the time of Gutenberg: rare books. Hideko has to read sub-Sadean material out loud and then, in a very strange scene, she has to pose on a kind of porn trapeze with a male mannequin. And the shame that comes with porn has a political side. It is related to the shame of living under colonial rule. But in The Handmaiden, s*x is a refuge from p*rnography. Hideko and Sook-sex hee’s is a refuge from porn and its tools of abuse and control.
As for the rich book dealer himself, Kouzuki (Jo Jin-Woong), he can’t take away from our fake Count’s ability to be a charismatic villain, but he is powerful and evil, and he reminds us of an octopus from Park’s earlier movie Oldboy. Park may have been influenced by Luis Buuel’s film Viridiana, which is about a troubled man who is obsessed with his niece. It’s a great adaptation of Sarah Waters’s original book, and it’s a movie about pleasure and rapture, which most other movies can only hint at.
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Why is The Handmaiden Controversial?
The Handmaiden showed how Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko started to like each other and how their s*xual tension grew. The explicit scenes in the psychological thriller made it the talk of the town (don’t watch it with your parents!) and Vogue called it the most erotic movie of 2016.
What is the Message of The Handmaiden?
The movie shows how women can be s*xual and independent. The book was written by a lesbian woman named Waters. Even though it might seem strange to have a male director adapt a well-known story about LGBTQ+ women, Park’s version is respectful in every way.
Korean director Park Chan-wook has adapted the novel Fingersmith for the big screen. The film is a crime thriller that can be compared to Hitchcock’s Rebecca or Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques. Halfway through the movie, there is a whiplash twist that turns everything on its head. Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-Ri star in the film. Ha Jung-woo plays the con artist and predator.
The film is full of eroticism. Hideko has to read sub-Sadean material out loud. And she has to pose on a kind of porn trapeze with a mannequin. The Handmaiden is a great adaptation of Sarah Waters’s original book. The movie shows how women can be s*xual and independent. It’s a movie about pleasure and rapture, which most other movies can only hint at. Vogue called it the most erotic movie of 2016.