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'The Handmaiden' TIFF 2016 Review: Revenge and lust dominate, in this sexy, stylish period thriller

September 9, 2016Ben MK

Best known for films like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance — aka The Vengeance Trilogy — Chan-wook Park's movies are typically violent and bloody affairs, full of lust, betrayal and greed. The director's latest, however, a period piece set in turbulent, 1930s Korea, takes these themes to decadent new heights, with results as sensual as they are thrilling.

An erotically-charged tale told in three parts, The Handmaiden is the story of Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), the daughter of an infamous pickpocket, who's recruited to help a grifter posing as a Count (Jung-woo Ha) bilk a wealthy heiress named Hideko (Min-hee Kim) out of her vast fortune. Posing as Hideko's new handmaiden, Sookee's job is to encourage Hideko to fall in love with the Count, so that he can marry her, steal her financial assets and have her committed to an insane asylum. However, things are far from as they appear; and as the plot thickens, so too does the sexual tension between the two women, sending everyone's best-laid plans for a tailspin.

Adapted from novelist Sarah Waters' 2002 book, "Fingersmith," what follows is a twisty-turny exploration into the depths of depravity, passion, greed and love, all filtered through a haunting vision where tortured spirits hang from the branches of cherry blossom trees, and ceramic cobras guard the entranceway to a subterranean library rife with perversion and torrid tales. Suffice to say, The Handmaiden is a gorgeous, three-course feast for the senses; and when it comes time for the wicked to receive their just desserts, you'll be hungering for more.

The Handmaiden is receiving its North American premiere as part of TIFF 2016's Special Presentations programme. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 24 Min.

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