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The Handmaiden - Park Chan-Wook (2016)

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce and bilk a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her inheritance.


The Handmaiden is a film that settled yet another building block to define modern Korean cinema as a force to be reckoned with in the film world. The 10th feature film by Korean legend Park Chan-Wook is a beautiful and sensual offbeat Korean drama that deserves to have as much exposure to a western audience as possible. This film, on the surface, is a 1930s period drama, that follows a Korean woman who is hired to serve as a handmaiden to a Japanese woman in a royal secluded estate. This synopsis normally turns many away usually due to the fact that it a foreign language film combined with being a period piece however, once you find a slot in your day to invest 145 minutes of your time – this film is how you do it. Underneath, it is a graphically violent and overwhelmingly sexual film. All packaged as a beautiful psychological thriller, imitating the same experience as a beautiful painting that just hypnotises you. One of the key standouts is the core romance that is composed as the film goes along. Our protagonists Sook-Hee and Lady Hideko have the chemistry and development where there is no other option than to pray that their love is enact. Simply from the relationship and the genre-breaking rules of the film. This can be classified as another entry to the LGBTQ+ Cinema world where it does not centre around the coming out process. Their love is simply love and luckily the films main themes or ideas do not concern their lesbian relationship. We are yet given another world to see the world that we crave for being displayed on screen. Although the film has been critiqued for its lesbian fetishization through the male gaze due to the ‘explicit’ sex scenes. It is hard to delve into it without spoilers, their sex is what liberates them and Parks ‘in-your-face’ take on this subject matter offers a rebuttal to what audiences expect of women in film. They exist in their own world without the motive of male pleasure whilst simultaneously portraying a healthy gay relationship. This is a film that creates a genre within itself. A twisted, erotic, skilful but most importantly nuanced story that succeeds in every single aspect possible. Park-Chan-Wook, this one’s for you.

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