A wild, lurid, if pretty long cinematic mind-bender from the maker of Stoker and Thirst features acrimony (towards the masculine), romance and emancipation adapted from Sarah Waters' superbly sinuous Fingersmith.
Park Chan-wook deliriously embraces his horror roots a little more with The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (fully subtitled, white for Korean, yellow for Japanese) using Waters' Victorian Era to navigate a resplendent décor for 1930s Korea during Japan's occupation.
A petty thief and orphan swindler (almost out of Dickens) Soo-kie (Kim Tae-ri) is recruited by an avaricious Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to extort the inheritance of opulent sheltered Japanese Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and have her committed to an insane asylum . Lady Hideko has been in check by her imperious Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-Woong) reading his vast library to his freaky friends when not sensually posing.
Following the delightful, less lurid progenitor, Park may not as much up his sleeve, but the imagery and betrayals abound in many clever sequences that imbues perversion, lust, and torture (not as bad as some of his other films). It may turn out, though, in the climactic sequence to be overly wanton or unwarranted.
Nonetheless, The Handmaiden glides with empowerment and manipulation with the middle of three chapters from Hideko's perspective as an unbridled attraction leads to a change of plans. But, if this is essentially elegant smut with the polish of a refined British period drama, it excels often from the stunning ways it narratively subverts itself. As well as the striking aura and ardency brought to the proceedings by the disparate, yet so inviting Tae-ri and Min-hee.