A lavish erotic lesbian epic mystery. How’s that for a description? Adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith, with the Victorian England settings transposed to Colonial-era Korea, The handmaiden is at times so extreme and big that it threatens to become ridiculous. And that’s the point… I think. In Japanese occupied Korea, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a pale skinned Japanese heiress hires new Korean handmaiden Tamako (Kim Tae-ri). Tamako’s real name is Sook-hee, a pickpocket whose entire family are con artists. Near the beginning Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) arrives and makes a proposal to Tamako to spy on Hideko so he can seduce her and get some of her money. Lady Hideko has problems of her own. She has to deal with a sadistic and obsessive uncle who vows to marry her. The Count’s plan changes course when the Lady and Tamako become lovers. Like the novel, the story is structured in three books, each from another perspective, completely reassessing what we thought we knew and what was happening. The sex scenes between Lady Hideko and Tamako are quite graphic without being pornographic. I would call it “erotic”. Production values are of the highest order. The actors are quite good, with special mention to Ha Jung-woo, underplaying Count Fujiwara’s cockiness so much that it becomes a cartoon character. The handmaiden is very much like a cartoon. The point is not take what is happening on the screen quite so seriously, and to have fun… I think.
The handmaiden (Ah-Ga-ssi)
Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles.