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The Handmaiden (2016)

Thriller Rated NR

In Japanese-occupied Korea, a con man (Jung-woo Ha) enlists a pickpocket (Tae-ri Kim) to pose as the handmaiden to a young heiress (Min-hee Kim), who is living under the “protection” of her depraved uncle (Jin-woong Jo). Although the plan is to have the handmaiden convince the heiress to fall for the con man, who takes the guise of a count, things get complicated when the two women find sensual solace in each other. This is origami Hitchcock, in that the movie appears to be one thing, but the more we unfold its mystery, the deeper we fall into suspicion, desire, and depravity. Coming from director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker), The Handmaiden gets distracted at times by the more extreme elements of its tale, to the point that some might consider its condemnation of the male gaze a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Yet the film is sumptuously designed, deftly structured, and anchored by two devilishly duplicitous lead performances. We’re never quite sure when someone actually means what they say because, as Kim’s handmaiden puts it at one point, “Everyone’s performing their roles so damned well.”