Park Chan-Wook’s “The Handmaiden” boasts absolutely stunning costumes, set design and cinematography – not to mention some truly devoted actors to make magic happen in the frame. This is all very necessary for a film that makes its audience watch the same story play out three separate times over the course of nearly two and a half hours. Every section adds perspective to the other, but getting to that enlightened place is equal parts exhausting and rewarding.
This Korean-set caper details the exploits of Sook-hee, a handmaiden who enters the home of the occupying Japanese heiress Lady Hideiko, as she attempts to guide her employer to marry a conman who will then commit her to an asylum and steal her family’s fortune. What ensues is something akin to a more erotic “Gone Girl” with stunning reversals. But wait, there’s more – “The Handmaiden” features some screwball comedy flourishes that make the proceedings even wilder! There’s also erotic fiction reading, kinky sex and some savagely violent beatdowns.
Park maintains a sharp feminist eye throughout, paying close attention to the female solidarity that emerges between Sook-hee and Hideiko as they realize how men attempt to play them off each other for selfish ends. Each section of the triptych adds more dimensionality and intrigue to their relationship. While “The Handmaiden” may occasionally drag in redundancy, it never gets boring to observe their unconventional power dynamic shift around. B+ /