Based off the 2002 historical crime novel, Fingersmith, written by Sarah Waters, Director Wook moved the setting from Victorian Era Britain to 1930s Korea under Japanese colonial ruling. The story focuses on two con artists, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung Woo) and a young pick pocketer, Sook Hee (Kim Tae Ri) who plot to steal the fortune of heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee). However, if you have ever seen a Park Chan Wook film, you know that this is not the only story, and with any film, this plot is twisted and changed until you reach the end of the film with an expression of WTF on your face.
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I am a HUGE fan of Park Chan Wook’s film, regardless of how disturbing and twisted some his movies can be, and The Handmaiden’s twist and turns still kept me engaged in the film, but I had no idea this film wasn’t going to be bloody graphic, but more sexually graphic! It was borderline porn! The thing about this film was the storyline, the plot, the beautiful camera work and set design was seriously wonderful to watch. The way scenes were shot brought about a strange and uneasy feeling. I understand why some of the sex scenes were included, as it plays a very large plot in the film, however, I definitely think it could have been toned down. The more graphic sex scenes, in my opinion, did not add or take away from the film. I believe it was more for a shock factor, and shock it did, as this film has an 18+ rating in several countries!
Maybe the sex scenes were meant to represent something else? I am not totally convinced on this, as I still believe a good chunk was for shock factor value but maybe it could. As we later learn in the film, Lady Hideko has been raised by her uncle, a man she not only is suppose to marry but also a man who has taught her from a young age to read/ “perform” pornography to a bunch of horny, perverted men. Maybe the reason Lady Hideko and Sook Hee fall in love, and the film circles around a lesbian romance, is because of the abuse Hideko endured from so many horrible men. She finds release from her horrible upbringing in the young Sook Hee.
The Handmaiden, aside from its numerous sex scene, is still a wonderful revenge film. You think you know what’s happening and then suddenly it totally changes on you, leaving you confused. Park Chan Wook does a wonderful job of showing you one version of the film, before taking us back to the beginning and showing us everything we couldn’t see before. I honestly did like the film, but I just wish that more could have been left to the imagination.
How in the world does The Handmaiden have more graphic sex scenes (between women, nonetheless!) than Fifty Shades of Grey, a book that’s whole existence revolved around S&M sex, yet the film shows about 10%.
The Handmaiden is a great revenge film, and once again Park Chan Wook created a beautiful visual world for audiences, but be warned- young children, and anyone sensitive to graphic sexual content should not watch this film.