The Handmaiden ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Audacious adaptation of Sarah Waters' gothic historical novel of thievery and deception in Victorian England, Fingersmith, turns out -- in Park Chan-wook's hands -- to be an over-the-top, visually sumptuous and truly irresistible fusion of Erich von Stroheim's Foolish Wives, Henri Georges-Clouzot's Diabolique and, er, the '90s sex thriller Wild Things, with Ha Jung-woo's absurd "Count" out to deceive and rob an aged, pervy Japanese book collector by seducing his heiress with the help of a pickpocket. Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri's work in the latter two roles is engaging, witty (it's quite surprising how straightforwardly funny a lot of the film is) and fearless, fully selling a duplicity that brings us along for the ride while allowing us to look back on the experience in retrospect with new enlightenment. Particularly in the first half, Park takes advantage of not just Korea's natural beauty but the visual lexicon of Merchant-Ivory films, which he gleefully subverts in favor of a narrative deeply reliant on both genuine, casual and hard-won eroticism and lurid, dirty-old-man sexuality -- for the longest time, this is a line he seems anxious to blur, until he almost magically brings it all together and marks the clearest of lines between pleasure and exploitation. Beautiful and indulgent in equally elevated measures, it's a wickedly funny treatise on the final superfluousness of the grabby, horny, greedy male.

Never thought I'd get so much pleasure out of a book-destroying sequence.