Cannes Film Festival: The Handmaiden

In Competition
The Handmaiden (Mademoiselle)

Directed by Park Chan-wook
Starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Hae-sook and Moon So-ri
In UK Cinemas April 14th, 2017
Watch on iTunes (US)

by Joanna Orland

Part one of The Handmaiden may come as a surprise to those familiar with the work of director Park Chan-wook.  The film which is set in 1930’s Korea during the period of Japanese occupation, begins as a tame tale of a young handmaiden (Sookee) who is hired to care for Japanese heiress Hideko who lives a secluded life in the countryside alongside her Uncle Kouzuki.  Sookee is living a lie.  The young handmaiden is really a thief who has been recruited by a con artist who needs her help to seduce the Lady and steal her fortune.  Plans go awry as Sookee and Hideko begin a sensually erotic love affair.

It is in part two where this film evolves into the classic twisted Park Chan-wook style story we’ve grown accustomed to.  With some very disturbing content, director Chan-wook somehow always finds the beautiful in even the most horrid of situations.  He is a true auteur with each of his films, The Handmaiden no exception even though it is adapted from Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. Brutal and horrid subject matter is on display in a stunningly mesmerizing fashion.  What begins as sensual erotica becomes fetishized to the point of discomfort and back again into fascination as the director is a master of remaining tasteful even when dealing with such turbulent issues as sadistic sexual abuse.

While making a film which strongly features lesbian erotica, Chan-wook never filters it through the male gaze, but empowers his female characters doing for them what Hollywood has yet to do for any of theirs.  Not only do two women have the main leading roles in this film, but they are well developed, well written, well rounded characters.  This film is to be celebrated on a number of levels.

A stunning piece of cinema, The Handmaiden delivers on its Park Chan-wook promise and more.


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