Handmaiden is such a spider’s web of Hitchcockian paranoia, twists, and intrigue that there is no way to discuss the plot without spoilers; which is the absolute last thing you want with film this magnificent. The set-up is simple, a young Korean woman is hired as the Handmaiden to a wealthy heiress whose uncle by marriage is keen to marry the heiress and steal her fortune. Enter a young Count, who comes to steal the heiresses heart away but, in fact, she may already have an eye for her handmaiden. It all seems very conventional, but within minutes it is clear that nothing is what it seems on the surface and the film grows more shocking and surprising with each turn.
As surprised as I was the first time I saw old boy, I was equally surprised by the handmaiden but in a totally distinct and different way. Going just by the poster (got to avoid those spoilers) I was expecting a rather reserved period piece. Instead, much to my delight, Handmaiden is an erotic thriller with overtones of Hitchcock and possessing a wicked, unapologetic sense of humor.
Chan-wook Park also delivers an amazingly beautiful film, full of lush, rolling landscapes and ornate costumes and architecture. The visual scope is among the broadest of his career. Far removed from the grittiness of the vengeance trilogy, Handmaiden has a sensual and colorful palette. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that The Handmaiden might unseat Old Boy as Park’s most famous film.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.