The Handmaiden: Western Inspired Eastern Gothic

Park Chan-Wook: A Bold Korean Director Park Chan-Wook’s elegant erotic thriller, The Handmaiden.

Park Chan-Wook is one of my favourite directors of all time. His bold, unflinching vision has captivated me ever since I saw Oldboy in an international film festival. I sat in a dark theatre, watching that movie, my heart thundering, every new reveal as shocking as the last. At the end of the movie I turned to my friend and said, “Wow. I feel like my face just got blown off.”

He has never disappointed since that first movie I watched all the way back in 2003. The Handmaiden is definitely no exception.

Fingersmith: A Gothic Thriller adapted to an Eastern Setting. Fingersmith, an amazing historical fiction novel by Sarah Waters.

Interestingly, The Handmaiden is an adaptation of a Gothic thriller by the widely renowned Sarah Waters. The novel, Fingersmith, is an amazing read in its own right and I would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction. Sarah Waters’ novel is set in Victorian era Britain and Park Chan-Wook has adapted the setting to move it to Korea under Japanese colonial rule.

I love the idea of such a Western novel being adapted to an Eastern setting – being from the West myself I have often lamented the state of so many amazing films from the East being remade for English speaking audiences as frame by frame copies or just inferior remakes altogether lacking the vision of the originals, simply because so many people are unwilling to read subtitles.

Sarah Waters’ novel is a historical crime novel with a myriad of twists and turns. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because the story is such a wild ride that I feel reading the novel or watching Park Chan-Wook’s movie with prior knowledge would be a disservice to you, the reader/viewer. What I will tell you is that the plot involves a very complicated game of cons — no character is what they really appear to be. But at its heart, Fingersmith is a love story between two women who are trapped in situations by men who control their destiny, and their journey to break free from their seemingly inescapable predicament.

The Handmaiden: Historical Drama and Crime Thriller at its Finest The movie’s costumes and lush visuals really add depth to the story.

Park Chan-Wook does an amazing job of keeping the original feel of Fingersmith while adapting the setting. The movie is beautiful, with all the amazing costumes and lush settings that you would expect from a historical drama. Even more importantly, it’s thrilling to watch these two seemingly powerless women take control and triumph over the captors that have made their lives so miserable for so long.

I strongly recommend both the book and the movie, but I leave it up to you, reader, if you plan to read the novel first or watch the movie. I watched the movie before I read the novel but still equally enjoyed the journey for both. What is your preference in order, book or movie? Have you watched The Handmaiden and did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Hope to hear from you, and I hope you give Park Chan-Wook’s movies a try if you haven’t watched any of his offerings before. They are truly unlike any movies I can describe in the Western repertoire and are not to be missed.


Your Final Girl.

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