South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Stoker) erotic psychological thriller – adapted from Welsh author Sarah Waters’ historical novel Fingersmith – screened to vast acclaim in Competition at Cannes this year.
It relocates Waters’ story from Victorian Britain to 1930s Korea during Japanese colonial rule. New girl Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired as handmaiden to Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). But Sookee has a secret: she has been recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese nobleman to carry out a devilish plan of robbery, seduction and imprisonment which seems set to succeed – until Sookee and Lady Hideko fall prey to unexpected emotions.
The Handmaiden‘s simmering exploration of lesbian sexuality, sublime set design and sensational plot twists are more than met by its cast, who deliver performances of genuine emotional power. This is wildly entertaining, consummate filmmaking from Chan-wook.