Movie Review: The Handmaiden

By Maria Lubanovic, Staff Writer
[CJ Entertainment; 2016]
Rating: 8.5/10

The Handmaiden is an erotic thriller set in the 1930s that focuses on a rich woman and her handmaiden, who are both involved in schemes to steal her inheritance. It’s loosely based off the Victorian-era crime novel Fingersmith, and is a fascinating and beautifully shot piece of work.

This movie is almost two and a half hours long, but it never for a second feels like it. The characters are fascinating and unique, with Lady Hideko as an heiress living with her creepy book collecting uncle, and Sookee as a pickpocketing orphan before she becomes the handmaiden for Lady Hideko. Hideko’s uncle collects rare erotic books and keeps them in a library that is closed off to everyone but himself, Hideko, and visitors who come to listen to her read. The plot is split into three parts, with each part revealing more and more of the story. The movie foreshadows major plot points way before they are shown in later parts, adding to the mystery and thrill of the storyline.

Aesthetically, it’s perfection. The costumes and styling are an absolute dream, the sets are textured and beautiful, and the lighting and camera work are so precise. The writing is serious and tense but is broken up by witty line delivery. The film is in Japanese and Korean, with English subtitles.

As this is an erotic film, it’s not for everyone. There are scenes that make you want to look away, but you won’t, like a torture scene and several sex scenes. That said, The Handmaiden is beautifully done and a fascinating, twisted movie that is worth seeing for its beauty alone.

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