The first time I read Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, I was struck by its beautiful prose. The novel’s adaptation The Handmaiden (2016) achieves something similar with its lush aesthetic. Its beautiful, calm shots hide a thick plot of layered manipulation.
The Handmaiden transports the plot of Fingersmith from Victorian England to Korea in the 1930s under Japanese occupation. Despite this change in location and time, the movie follows the book’s plot closely — until it doesn’t. When reading, I wasn’t prepared for the big plot twist at the end of the first part of the book. The movie kept the three-act-structure of the book, and I knew what was coming. And yet, director Park took the twist and twisted it again so cleverly that I was as surprised as with the book.