The Handmaiden (2016)

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This Korean adaptation by Chan-wook Park of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters was a delightful surprise. Skipped at MIFF because it seemed a bit trivial, I discovered it is a beautiful exploration of the power of women and the many guises of oppression and truth.

The novel is set in Victorian England but here we are in 30s Korea under Japanese rule. Sook-hee works as a conwoman in a group led by the charismatic Count. He persuades her to take a job as a handmaiden for young and innocent Lady Hideko, the wealthy niece of a man obsessed by books. The Count’s plan is to for Sook-hee to encourage Hideko to fall in love with him; he will marry her, commit her to an asylum and then steal her fortune.

The film is split into three sections, each a telling of the same story from a different point of view. Just like the characters, we keep being surprised as we realise what has been happening off-camera, the assumptions we have made, the people who are not what they at first seem.

There is humour, tragedy, revenge, surprise and some delicious lesbian sex. The two leading women are engaging and inspiring.

Bechdel test – pass
4.5 stars

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