Adaptations are funny little things, aren’t they? They happen so often yet they rarely work when there is a shift from culture to culture. A recent example is Ghost in the Shell which is a Japanese property that got a Western adaptation, and it did not work for audiences. This brings me to Park Chan-wook’s (Vengeance Trilogy) latest film The Handmaiden which is a Korean adaptation of The Fingersmith by Welsh author Sarah Waters.
The Handmaiden follows Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-Ri) a Korean pickpocket who is enlisted by Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) a Korean conman into scamming a Japanese heiress Lady Izumi Hideko (Kim Min-hee) out of her fortune. Fujiwara poses as a nobleman who teaches her painting and Sook-Hee works as her personal handmaiden whispering in her ear to further the Counts seduction. What follows is a tale broken into three separate acts which astounded and intrigued me.
The Handmaiden is easily one of the best films I have seen in 2017. It is wonderfully shot, every scene flows into the next with precision and loving care and paying attention to each interaction matters when the film enters its final act garners rewards for any cinephiles out there. In addition to the top-notch directing and cinematography, the cast of The Handmaiden is tremendous. Kim Tae-Ri and Kim Min-hee are bewitching together, their relationship is intoxicatingly potent and watching their interactions mature from servant to lady to friends and beyond is fascinating. In addition to these two actresses, The Handmaiden is filled with a cadre of disturbing characters, and none are more frightening than Lady Izumi’s Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong) who is a lover of rare erotic novels who hopes to marry his niece for her fortune. He is a detestable creature with twisted and perverted motives, and whenever he was on screen, he gave off an otherworldly air that got under my skin and it added to the overall atmosphere of The Handmaiden.
In the wake of the devilish atmosphere built up by the characters, The Handmaiden has an elegant score and it fills the film with resplendent life. And this is the most important element of The Handmaiden, it is an intense and carnal film that leaves quite the impression. For audiences who felt disappointed by the unimpressive 50 Shades of Grey and the equally ridiculous 50 Shades Darker, The Handmaiden provides the story, the characters and the sensual atmosphere they were looking for.
The only problem with The Handmaiden is that due to its lack of a marketing presence mainstream audiences may not catch this in the cinema, and they will be lesser for it. If you have the opportunity to catch it in a cinema near you and you’re a fan of Park Chan-wook’s work head in, you won’t regret it.