Park Chan-wook is one of South Korea’s best and most notable directors and is a firm favourite of mine. Internationally, he is best known for the 2005 film ‘Oldboy’ which was met with critical acclaim and is a favourite among many Asian film fans. More recently, in 2013 he made his English language debut with the film ‘Stoker’ that starred Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode & Nicole Kidman, which was a moderate success but didn’t quite match-up to his previous work.
With his latest film ‘The Handmaiden’, Park has gone back to his native homeland and created an erotic thriller that is inspired by the novel ‘Fingersmith’ written by Welsh writer Sarah Waters. It is a deeply compelling film and another fantastic entry in Park Chan-Wook’s oeuvre.
The film is set in 1930’s Korea, which at the time was under Japanese Colonial rule and concerns a poor Korean girl who is hired to become a handmaiden for a young Japanese Heiress. But things aren’t as straight forward as they seem and thus unfolds a story of deceit, love and desire, with strong characters and a sprinkling of dark humour. The narrative is structured in such a way that it consistently subverts expectations and always has something more to reveal. It’s a story that is constantly engaging and never drags within the film’s long 145 minute run time.
It’s notably quite tame compared to a lot of Park’s other films, the violence is fairly minimal, but the film still has its dark undertones and is very sexually charged, including a couple of explicit sex scenes that actually play a relevant role within the story.
Performances are top-notch, with each actor really managing to bring out the depth of their characters, delivering captivating performances that are hard to fault. This is actually the feature debut for main actress Kim Tae-ri and what a fantastic first film for her. She does a great job keeping up with the more experienced cast and definitely has a bright future ahead of her.
Visually the film is beautiful. It’s lavish settings are wonderfully complimented by elegant cinematography that includes some nice elaborate framing, making for a very stunning movie.
The music is also splendid. It has a typical sound you usually hear in period dramas that fits in exceedingly well with the film. it’s all beautifully composed by Jo Yeong-wook, who has scored most of Park Chan-wook’s earlier films and there were a couple of pieces in particular that really resonated with me
Overall The Handmaiden stands among the best work of Park Chan-wook. A masterfully crafted tale of desire and sexuality that is utterly enthralling. It unfortunately only had a limited release in selected cinemas, but shall be out on DVD/Blu-ray August 17th, so if your fan of Asian cinema or just foreign films in general, then I highly recommend checking it out.
Story – 9.5/10
Acting – 9/10
Visuals – 9/10
Sound – 8.5/10
Entertainment Value – 10/10
Overall – 9.2/10
Written by Eric Hart (Blazinhart)