I Am Very Much Looking Forward To

The Handmaiden (Original title: Agassi), a 2016 South Korea film directed by Park Chan-wook, opens this Friday in Madrid.

A crook-turned-servant falls for the vulnerable heiress she had originally schemed to swindle, in this audacious, visually sumptuous, and highly erotic period piece from acclaimed writer-director Park Chan-wook.

With The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook transplants Sarah Waters’ Victorian England-set bestseller Fingersmith to Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. The result is a historical drama, an erotically charged thriller, and, above all, a magnificent romance. Under Park’s sophisticated direction, Waters’ tale, about a pickpocket-turned-servant and the heiress she conspires to swindle, provides the basis for something beautiful and brash.

Park utilizes the novel’s three-part structure to tell the story from three distinct perspectives: those of Japanese aristocrat Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), Korean thief Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), and pseudonymous grifter Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo). Hideko lives isolated in the luxurious colonial manor built by her tyrannical and depraved uncle (Cho Jin-woong), a book collector who forces Hideko to read erotic stories for his lecherous old friends. Into this bizarre yet static daily routine enters new handmaiden Sookee, who is in on the purported Count Fujiwara’s scheme to marry Hideko and seize her inheritance.

But, soon enough, Sookee will experience a profound change of heart as she becomes far less interested in Fujiwara’s scheme than she is in her vulnerable, repressed mistress. Growing increasingly intimate as they share Hideko’s ornate wardrobe, her jewellery, and her bathtub, the two women edge toward an abyss of love that is as pure as it is passionately sexual. Lusty, role-switching games between lady and servant are interrupted along the way by morbid revelations, double-crossings, grave threats, and torture.

With his brilliant mise en scène, Park plays with taboos, genres, and styles to create not only a provocative film, but also a sumptuous feast for the eyes, the mind, and the heart. (Giovanna Fulvi)

Park Chan-wook was born in Seoul. He studied philosophy at Sogang University and later worked as a film critic while pursuing a career as a writer-director. His works include The Moon Is…the Sun’s Dream(92), Trio (97), Joint Security Area (00), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance(02), Oldboy (03), Lady Vengeance (05), I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK(06), Thirst (09), Stoker (13), and The Handmaiden (16).

Source: Toronto International Film Festival, Tiff)

On My Wish List

Looking towards the coming year, I have reorganised my wish list as follows (according to their published year)

  1. Icarus by Deon Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015) (tr. K.L. Seegers)
  2. Ordeal by Jorn Lier Horst (Sandstone Press, 2015) (tr. Anne Bruce)
  3. The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly (Orion, 2016)
  4. A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri (Mantle, 2016) (tr. Stephen Sartarelli)
  5. Then She Was Gone by Luca Veste (Simon & Schuster, 2016)
  6. A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Harvill Secker, 2016)
  7. Out of Bounds by Val McDermid (Little, Brown, 2016)
  8. The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid by Craig Russell (Quercus, 2016)
  9. Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin (Orion, 2016)
  10. Coffin Road by Peter May (Quercus, 2016)
  11. A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas (Harvill Secker, 2016)(tr. Sian Reynolds)
  12. A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward (Faber and Faber, 2016)
  13. The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller (Faber and Faber, 2016)
  14. Dodgers by Bill Beverly (No Exit Press, 2016)
  15. Blackout by Ragnar Jónasson (Orenda Books, 2016) (tr. Quentin Bates)
  16. The Unfortunate Englishman by John Lawton (Grove Press, 2016)
  17. Hellfire by Karin Fossum (Harvill Secker, 2016) (tr. Kari Dickson)
  18. The Plea by Steve Cavanagh (Orion Publishing, 2016)
  19. The Trespasser by Tana French (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016)
  20. A Fine Line by Gianrico Carofiglio (Bitter Lemon Press, 2016) (tr. Howard Curtis)
  21. Even the Dead by Benjamin Black (Penguin UK, 2016)
  22. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber, 2016)
  23. Rage by Zygmunt Miloszewski (tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones) (AmazonCrossing, 2016)
  24. Real Tigers by Mick Herron (Soho Crime, 2016)
  25. The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books, 2016) (tr. David Hackston)
  26. A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart (Crime Wave Press, 2016)
  27. A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone (Orenda Books, 2017)
  28. Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker, 2017)
  29. Low Heights by Pascal Garnier (Gallic Books, 2017) tr. Melanie Florence)
  30. The Intrusions by Stav Sherez (Faber & Faber, 2017)
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