The Handmaiden is a Korean movie based on the English novel Fingersmith. I’ve always understood a fingersmith to be a Dickensian pickpocket or someone else similarly light-fingered, but, apparently, the term is also a popular one with the LGBTQ community. You could use your imagination to figure out why but the movie saves you the trouble.
This is a double cross of a double cross, with the ‘fingersmiths’ of the title attempting to pull a con on the young, naïve, and fabulously rich Lady Hideko (played by Min-Hee Kim who is oh-my-God beautiful), whose uncle wants to marry her. What? Yes, the oh-my-God horrid Uncle Kouzuki (played by Jin-woong Jo) intends to wed the Lady, his niece, in order to inherit her fortune, which he needs in order to pursue rare 14th Century Japanese pornography texts. What? Yes, 14th Century Japanese pornography. Quite rare. Quite explicit, and quite priceless to a small but very degenerate group of Japanese businessmen in occupied Korea during the early 20th Century. The fingersmiths, local Koreans, hatch a plot for a fake member of Japanese nobility named Count Fujiwara (played by Jung-woo Ha) to sweep in and offer the Lady a chance to escape by eloping with the good Count to Japan, taking her fortune with her, naturally. After about a week of marriage, commit her to a nuthouse, make off with the cash, life is good…so how’s a Korean going to pull off Japanese nobility? Eh. Not at issue, because the uncle is a Korean, too, who is turning Japanese oh yes he’s turning Japanese I really think so. It’s a thing.
So, in order to pull this improbable plot off, the Count gets a member of his fingersmith gang to pose as the Lady’s handmaiden of the title and urge her to accept the Count’s suit. But the handmaiden, Sook-Hee (played by Tae-Ri Kim. No relation. I think) is not only a fingersmith of the Dickensian connotation but also of the LGBTQ one (figured it out yet?) and falls head over heels with the Lady, which I can understand because she is oh-my-God beautiful and so innocent and pure and naïve and…
No she ain’t.
And this is where the double cross of the double cross comes in, which I don’t want to say very much more on because it is dee-lightful. In more ways than one, especially when bells are ringing.
Go see for yourself.
And be prepared. Because, hoo boy, you’ll be treated to some excellent exhibitions of 14th Century Japanese pornographic techniques not once, not twice, but at least five times. In detail. And bordering just this side of an X-rating. You’ll wish the director, Chan-wook Park of Old Boy fame, had added six or seven more examples. But I guess you’ll just have to watch the movie again. And again. And again…