“The Handmaiden” is definitely one of those films that everyone needs to see before they die. Well, it’s definitely not for everyone, but everyone should give it a try.
This little Asian gem has everything that a viewer would want from a film. It’s visually stunning and the story is just out of this world. “The Handmaiden” keeps the audience on its toes, wondering what’s going to happen next. Then, it ends with a major twist blowing everyone’s mind away. It’s seriously that good.
Who’s the director? Chan-Wook Park is the man that brought this amazing story to life. If I didn’t know his name before, I’ll definitely start paying more attention to his future works. I just hope that Hollywood doesn’t get any ideas about making a remake of this fine work, because it won’t work. The world deserves to watch original films and not remakes.
(Please do not continue if you don’t want spoilers.)
The Handmaiden — The Story
What’s the story about? A young woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress. There are mainly four characters in this story: Sook-Hee (the handmaiden); Lady Hideko (the Japanese heiress), “Count Fujiwara” (the conman) and Kouziki (Hideko’s uncle). At first, I thought it was watching a linear story. Oh boy… I couldn’t be more wrong and nothing is what it seems.
Korea is currently occupied by the Japanese. A man who presents himself as “Count Fujiwara” (Jung-woo Ha) hires a young woman named “Sook-Hee” (Tae-ri Kim) to become the handmaiden of a mysterious Japanese heiress “Lady Hideko” (Min-hee Kim). He’s a conman and she’s a pickpocket. What’s the plan? Fujiwara wants to marry Lady Hideko and take her money away. However, that’s not all. Not only he wants to strip her from all of her fortune, he also wants to lock her in a mental institution. In order to do that, he needs Sook-Hee to gain Lady Hideko’s trust, so she can convince her to marry him. As the story progresses, everything seems to go according to plan. Lady Hideko and Fujiwara end up getting married but it’s Sook-Hee who ends up in an asylum.
Plot twist: Lady Hideko is not as innocent as she appears to be. It turns out, she has been “groomed” since a very young by her uncle and aunt to read erotic novels to aristocrats. Actually, Kouziki (Jin-woong Jo) is the puppet master behind this devious “arrangement”. Hideko and her aunt are just victims of his deviant desires. Not only this man is perverted but he’s greedy too. He wants to marry his own niece, just to get his hands on her money. Well, this is the part of the film where the audience learns that Lady Hideko and Fujiwara have been orchestrating a wicked plan to deceive both Kouziki and Sook-Hee. They were planning to escape from Kouziki and take Sook-Hee’s identity.
Plot twist: Lady Hideko and Sook-Hee were working together all this time to get back at Fujiwara. The tables have turned… Now, the audience learns that Lady Hideko and Sook-Hee end up developing true feelings for each other. Sook-Hee confesses her “intentions” and Lady Hideko confesses Fujiwara’s plan to put her in an asylum and take her identity. After this “honest” moment, they both plot against Fujiwara and Kouziki. Actually, they plot mainly against Fujiwara, Kouziki is just collateral damage. What’s the plan? Drug Fujiwara, “hand him” to Kouziki and runway from everything.
I believe I already gave out too many spoilers. As I said before, this film is not for everyone. There are some intense love scenes between the two leading ladies, which I was not expecting at all. However, they were tastefully shot (in my opinion). In very few words, “The Handmaiden” is: sexy, clever and powerful. It’s one of those films that will make you feel a certain type of way: you’ll either hate it or love it, but you won’t be indifferent to it. In addition, I found the female leads really refreshing. They are strong and masters of their own destiny, which is quite a contrast to how usually women are perceived and portrayed in film.
Though major spoilers were spilled, there are still plenty of more surprises in the film. Once again, the film is really that good.