Losing the plot

20 April 2017 | by Anthony Quinn

The Handmaiden Director: Park Chan-Wook


About a third of the way into Park Chan-wook’s exquisite-looking period drama, The Handmaiden, I felt certain I was watching a masterpiece unfold. By the end of its two-and-a- half-hour span I realised (oh, alas!) it was anything but. The slide in quality and credibility really is that stark.

The film is adapted from Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel, Fingersmith, not an entirely outlandish choice for a director whose previous highlights – the revenge epic Oldboy and the lurid southern US Gothick Stoker – mixed cold calculation with superheated desire. In contrast to the book’s brilliant evocation of mid-Victorian lowlife, the film is set in the Korea of the 1930s during its Japanese occupation: yet both concern class and identity and what it takes to sneak between the porous lines separating them. A young Korean woman, Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), is sent by Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to wait upon Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a delicate, highly-strung heiress who lives imprisoned in the country estate of her rich pornographer uncle.

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