‘The Handmaiden’: A brilliant display of female power


Michelle Tam

Outside the Virginia Theater on Friday, April 21. The 19th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival runs from April 19 – 23.

By Mara Shapiro, Staff writer

From intense erotic points in the film, graphic sex and torture scenes that involve fingers being horrifically chopped off one by one, “The Handmaiden” is a story of revenge and women taking back their freedom from oppressive men.

“The Handmaiden,” directed by Park Chan-Wook, centers around a young Korean woman, Sooki (Kim Tae-Ri), who becomes the handmaiden to a rich Japanese woman, Hideko.

When first introduced to Sooki, she is watching Japanese soldiers march by as she and three other Korean women take care of crying babies. At first glance, it seems that these women are nannies or nursery workers, but they are actually a group of thieves, led by Sooki’s aunt.

The women seem to be the antagonists in the start of the film; however, Sooki explains that the group takes in abandoned babies. They take care of them and sell them to wealthy Japanese families in order to give the babies better lives.

A Korean man by the name of the Count enters the picture and explains that he needs one of the young women to help him swindle a fortune from the niece of an eccentric, rich book collector. The Count wants one of the women to pose as the niece’s handmaiden and then convince her to fall in love with the Count. He then can eventually ship the rich woman off to an insane asylum and run away with her money. Sooki is picked for the job and becomes “the handmaiden Tamako” to Hideko.

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When Hideko is introduced, Sooki is informed that Hideko suffers from awful nightmares. It turns out she was traumatized from seeing her aunt hang herself when she was a child. Hideko tells Sooki that she doesn’t go out much and that she instead is instructed to read in her uncle’s giant library.

The two women quickly form a friendship. Sooki’s sexual tension in regards to the beautiful Hideko increases each time they interact, which culminates in a passionate sexual encounter. All the while, Sooki is supposed to implant the idea of loving the Count in Hideko’s very unwilling mind.

While this seems like the perfect plot for a love triangle, this movie really does anything but.

The truth about what goes on in Hideko’s uncle’s mansion is a shocker. This movie is truly a social commentary on freedom, male oppression and Japanese occupation. The acting was superb, the camerawork phenomenal, the music beautiful and the aesthetic beauty of Japan was captivating.

However, this movie is slightly disturbing.

The script inserts the perfect amount of dark humor and then sheepishly turns the plot back around.

This movie highlights how important female friendship is, and how women have to fight for ownership over their bodies, their minds, their assets and their freedom.

Based off of the British book “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters, this cultural adaptation is well done and truly insightful.

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