Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) is a young Japanese heiress who lives in utter seclusion on a sprawling estate with her creepy Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo), a collector of antique books, specifically pornography. Hideko spends most of her days in solitude, unless she is called upon by her uncle to read stories to his gallery of fellow book-loving friends, sometimes acting out certain scenes for added impact. Of course, she is intrigued when a handsome young man named Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) starts visiting her uncle and begins courting her. While she really isn't interested in him, anything's got to be better than her existing life. What she doesn't realize is that the Count is really a con man who has been waiting for the right time to court her so that he could marry her, steal her fortune, and commit her to a crazy house, since insanity runs in her family. Since her creepy uncle also hopes to marry her for that fortune as well, this could cause trouble. And then there's her new handmaiden, the accommodating and perky Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim), who recently replaced Hideko's former handmaiden and who is also secretly working with the Count to perhaps persuade Hideko to more quickly fall in love with him. When Hideko and Sook-Hee start to become intrigued by one another, plans go awry.
The Handmaiden plays out over three acts, each one from the point of view of either the Count, Hideko or Sook-Hee, and to say that the entire film is a mind-flummox (to use a nicer word when another f-word would better suffice) is an understatement. No one is who you think they are and nothing is as you expect.
Now, all of this sounds like the makings of a good thriller, right? Well, personally I would have preferred a warning of some sort that the film has more of its share of Asian soft-core lesbian porn. The audio is also in Korean with English subtitles, so if you don't go for subtitled films with running times of 2+ hours, take note. I am not trying to sound prudish, but I found it over the top. These actresses look young and play very girlish roles and I just didn't sign up to watch them bathing each other and teaching each other how to kiss (and more) using lollipops. And don't get me started on the silver bells or the octopus porn. It was all just more than a little off-putting.
I have only touched the surface of this film, because to delve deeper would reveal a lot of plot twists, and there are quite a few. While the overall plot is intriguing, it was just a bit much for me, personally. Park Chan-wook can be brilliant when it comes to directing and cinematography and some of the shots of the landscape surrounding the grand estate were just gorgeous, but then there were other shots that just weren't for me. *Ahem* If it sounds like something you'd like, go for it, but I don't recommend this movie for the average thriller lover, unless they want to squirm uncomfortably and awkwardly in their seat. Go watch Stoker instead. It's another weird thriller with its share of violence and sexual situations, but it's a much better watch and it was written by Wentworth Miller (The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow), so Captain Cold bonus!