The Handmaiden (Ah-Ga-Ssi) (S. Kor) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Park Chan-wook brings his strangely beautiful visual style and dark, cruel but very unique touch to the very English and feminine novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and proves that there is nothing you cannot fuse together harmoniously with a little creativity. Part Vertigo, part Downton Abbey, with a bit of Marquis de Sade thrown in for good measure, the story of a con-man and his female accomplice who concoct up a devious plan to swindle the inheritance of a young rich woman who’s imprisoned by her uncle is now transposed to Korea in the 1930s and  to say or know  any more would spoil the film, so suffice to say, it works a charm. The esthetics of the film is full of sumptuous production and spatial designs with exquisite and unconventional photography that glides in and out with choreographed fluidity. A non-linear and slightly fragmented narrative structure provides the opportunity for twisty repetitions and revelations that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. Even though the film is almost 2 ½ hours long, it is a lean and intelligent script where repeated dialogue or scenes are deliberate and positioned to juxtapose each other so that, as the film and the story unfolds, the audience gain a different and deeper understanding behind what they are seeing or hearing the second time round. The central performances by the two leading actresses, Kim Min-hee and newcomer Kim Tae-ri, are fearlessly sensual and mesmerizing in a film that isn’t shy about its sexuality. Despite the twisty nature of the story, the ending is hardly surprising; nevertheless, it is totally satisfying and audience-friendly and also provides a last minute chance for a director who has so far held back his signature wickedness to show a glimpse of that right at the end.

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