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The Handmaiden(아가씨)

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭   Read critic reviews

Korea · 2016
2h 25m
Director Park Chan-wook
Starring Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong
Genre Drama, Romance, Thriller

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Sook-Hee, an orphaned Korean pickpocket, is hired by the wealthy Lady Hideko to serve as her handmaiden. Unbeknownst to Lady Hideko, Sook-Hee is scheming to con her lady out of her inheritance — but both women discover some unexpected passions as a two-sided seduction unfolds.

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What are people saying?

Melanie Greenberg Profile picture for Melanie Greenberg

Every time you think you know what will happen next, Park Chan-Wook proves you wrong and it's incredible. Also a rare example of a psychological lesbian thriller with a happy ending!

Kelsey Thomas Profile picture for Kelsey Thomas

A film I’m very glad to have watched — and watched alone, especially. The story is told in three fairly clean segments that all draw from and add upon the last, and their separation helps the viewer maintain sight of the film’s many threads, even as they criss-cross over each other. Some of the violence feels sudden and disjointed, as do the sex scenes, but THE HANDMAIDEN clearly holds Park Chan-wook’s signature.

What are critics saying?


The Guardian by Benjamin Lee

Given the nudity on show, some are already quick to criticise Park’s direction as gratuitous and to claim that his male gaze is affecting the depiction of lesbian romance. But the impotency of the male characters helps to counter this while the sex scenes themselves, as lovingly shot as they might be, feel vital to the narrative.


The Hollywood Reporter by Deborah Young

Expectations are fully met in Park Chan-wook’s exquisitely filmed The Handmaiden (Agassi), an amusingly kinky erotic thriller and love story that brims with delicious surprises, making its two-and-a-half hours fly by.


The Verge by Emily Yoshida

By replacing the class system of Victorian England with the dynamic of the occupier and occupied, Park has tapped into something uniquely complex about a chapter of history that is rarely explored. There is a deep, festering malady at the heart of The Handmaiden, exacerbated by idle fantasy, cultural projection and denial.


IndieWire by Eric Kohn

No matter its overarching ridiculousness, The Handmaiden remains a hugely enjoyable dose of grotesque escapism from a master of the form.


The Film Stage by Giovanni Marchini Camia

Those familiar with Park’s earlier work will know that he’s hardly the most subtle of filmmakers, and his approach to gender politics here is risible, even self-contradictory. His customary prowess as a stylist and knack for constructing and navigating intricate plots, on the other hand, is once again put to good use.


The Playlist by Jessica Kiang

An intensely pleasurable, lavishly shot dessert tray of utter hokum, The Handmaiden is a prime example of why we should be glad that there’s someone out there still invested in the overwrought Gothic melodrama, and that that person is Park Chan-wook.


CineVue by John Bleasdale

The film reveals its twists and turns with a delicate hand and always manages to stay one step ahead of the audience, even as most of those watching will surrender to the hypnotic erotic charge that runs through the film.


The Telegraph by Tim Robey

It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment at which The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s deviously kinky period thriller, shifts from being a lascivious slice of art-house delirium to a gruelling, dislikable contraption which meretriciously sells out its source material. But that’s what happens.


Screen International by Wendy Ide

The film manages the tricky feat of both staying true to Waters breathless, page-turning prose, and creating a wholly persuasive new milieu for the story.

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