THE HANDMAIDEN (2016) Reviews and overview


The Handmaiden – aka 아가씨- is a 2016 South Korean erotic psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook (Stoker; Thirst; Oldboy). It is inspired by the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters, with the setting changed from Victorian era Britain to Korea under Japanese colonial rule. It stars Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo and Cho Jin-woong.

The film was released to critical acclaim and has grossed over $37 million worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the film grossed more than $1.34 million theatrically, becoming the highest-grossing foreign language film in the last five years (not including Hindi films).

A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her…



The surprising thing about it is that it delivers on every promise that categorization makes: there is mystery, hidden agendas, tension, explosions of violence, sex scenes, and a few daring escapes. While visually stunning, the film never moves to far from what lies at its core: an exploration of desire, imprisonment, vulnerability, and dishonesty in the name of self-interest and love.” Gabino Iglesias, Horror Talk

“Park, with his graphic tendencies, remains fixated on role play, both in terms of sex and deception. All four main characters are pursuing a vision of freedom that can be claimed only through a lie.” Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker

“Underground literary sex clubs, torture chambers, explicit verbal descriptions of the female anatomy – did I mention there’s a robbery somewhere in this scintillating lesbionic fantasy? A long-winded, repetitive, yet astonishingly beautiful fantasy that’s light on suspense, and heavy on “wait, where are those silver bells going?” Matt Donato, We Got This Covered

“Eschewing his usual modus operandi (larding an aura of sickening dread with virtuosic camerawork) for the rollicking tension of active kink, Park finds a percolating balance between sensuality and sin, and it might just win him admirers beyond the usual bloodthirsty fanboys.” Robert Abele, The Wrap

The Handmaiden is assured filmmaking, even handling later “Rashomon”-style messiness with grace. The picture keeps shifting perspective, revealing layers of disease and danger, eventually leading to graphic violence in the final act, keeping in step with Park’s cinematic interests.” Brian Orndorf,

“The eroticism of The Handmaiden is important – perhaps the most important part of the film. The action takes place in a wilderness of mirrors, a theatre of deception and masks – a world in which sex is the one thing that is always sincere, always real. It is not a style accessory, but rather the linchpin. It is what creates a co-conspiracy of freedom.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

” …the director of such extreme revenge thrillers as Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Oldboy slides back into his own febrile cinematic universe of eroticized torture and misogyny, rather submerging Waters’ theme of female rebellion and liberation.” Maggie Lee, Variety

“The film’s stellar combination of dark comedy, drama, and romance has resulted in one of the most memorable movies of the year. The Handmaiden is reminiscent of classic Park Chan-wook in the way that it commands our attention; it’s spellbindingly beautiful. Highly recommended!” Jeff Nelson, DVD Talk

Cast and characters:

  • Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko
  • Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee
  • Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara
  • Cho Jin-woong as Uncle Kouzuki
  • Kim Hae-sook as Butler Madame Sasaki
  • Moon So-ri as Hideko’s aunt
  • Lee Yong-nyeo as Bok-soon
  • Lee Dong-hwi as Goo-gai
  • Jo Eun-hyung as young Hideko
  • Rina Takagi as Hideko’s mother
  • Han Ha-na as Junko
  • Jeong Ha-dam as Housemaid
  • Choi Byung-mo as Audience member

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