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Review: ‘Handmaiden’: Erotic thriller supreme

Tom Long, The Detroit News

The first gobsmack — and it’s the first of so, so, so many gobsmacks — comes at the beginning of “The Handmaiden,” the brilliant erotic thriller from Korean director Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”).

A woman stands in the rain, umbrella above, holding a baby. She finally gives the baby to a group of other women, crying, abandoning the child for some assumed altruistic venture as she walks off into the distance.

No, that’s not what’s happening at all. The woman, Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), is a con artist, a pickpocket, a thief, part of a Korean babymill that sells children off to the Japanese. She has been recruited by a sleazeball phony nobleman named Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha).

The scheme? There is a rich heiress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), living in a remote compound with her uncle, Kozuki (Jin Wong-Joo), whom the Count wants to seduce. His plan is to make her fall in love with him, take her — and her money — to Japan, and have her locked away as a madwoman.

Things do not go as planned. To say more would ruin one of the most outrageous, stunning and surprising films in memory. Quentin Tarantino wishes he wrote this film. Quentin Tarantino wishes he directed this film.

He didn’t. Chan-wook Park and Seo-Kung Chung wrote it based on a novel by Sarah Waters. It is simply amazing, befuddling, transcendent. The chemistry between the female leads is nothing short of electric, the story — which turns back on itself again and again — is breathtaking, the direction is marvelous from all angles, the framing, the scenery, the intimacy ...

Oh, go see it. If you love cinema at all, go see it.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

‘The Handmaiden’


Not rated (sexuality, nudity, violence)

Running time: 144 minutes

At the Landmark Main Art Theatre