The Handmaiden ★★★★

Having never seen a Park Chan-wook film before, I was struck by The Handmaiden's curious blend of pulpy, Verhoevenesque sex & violence with the beautiful production design that feels Victorian (probably due to the film's Japanese-Korean setting being adapted from Sarah Waters' Victorian-set novel). It's wondrous and unnerving at the same time, evoking classic Gothic manor stories like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with a Hitchockian flair.

What starts as a straightforward con story quickly becomes complicated. A young con woman (Kim Tae-ri) takes on the role of handmaiden to a noblewoman (Kim Min-hee) as part of a plan to steal her inheritance, but then starts to develop feelings for the mark. Or does she, really? Park digs in deep to the twisting plot, letting the qualities of a fairy tale, a period drama, a Gothic mystery, and an erotic thriller all vie for centre stage. His roving camera thrills, reveling in the discovery of the forbidden—though it bears mentioning that, I think, the male gaze is minimal for a sexually-explicit film from a male director. The Handmaiden is a film that teems with the ferocity of passion and betrayal.

The Handmaiden is so delightfully Hitchcockian in its storytelling that two viewings will be necessary just to appreciate how everything fits into place. But I'm not sure how well it works on a third or fourth viewing, when you know what's coming. When you don't, though, it's a damn fun thrill.