I must be getting decadent in my old age

On my flight to Korea, I indulged in some light reading: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I liked it just for the title: a “fingersmith” is a Victorian pickpocket, and the word develops a few other meanings as the story progresses. It’s an incredibly twisty story about a young woman who is brought in to an elaborate con job of a rich young heiress who is the ward of a perverse older collector of Victorian erotica. But the story just keeps getting weirder and darker and more complicated, and it never goes where you expect it to. That’s what I like in my reading: surprises.

And now I learn it’s being made into a movie! And a movie by the perfect director for this story, Park Chan-Wook, who previously made a series of revenge movies, including Oldboy. It’s called The Handmaiden, which is OK and also suggestive, if not as good as Fingersmith, and it’s being translated to Colonial Era Korea rather than Victorian England. There are apparently a lot of things being added that weren’t in the book, as well.

And that’s just the beginning of the surprises. Sook-hee’s narrative doesn’t go at all the way you think it might. Nor does Hideko’s, and unlike most movies telling the same story from different points of views, it actually deepens and enriches everything we’ve already learned. We see her bizarre upbringing; learn the real, perverse reason for those “reading lessons;” discover the true nature of her relationship with The Count. It would be cruel to spoil the many, many surprises that remain, but just know that there are mid-air sex demonstrations with a wooden mannequin; liquid opium; hidden moats; a prominent octopus; constantly shifting alliances; and, of course — this is Park Chan-Wook we’re talking about — at least one person getting appendages cut off. Plus, the switch to Colonial Era Korea from Victorian England adds a fascinating layer of Korean-Japanese ethnic strife, and all the subtle class issues that entails.

They had me at “a prominent octopus”.

Now the only question is…where can I see it? I can’t quite imagine this appearing at the Morris Theater.


  1. redwood says

    @1 Joe Wood
    Pretty shocking to see my brother’s name saying the same thing I was going to say. Anyway, this particular brother of mine is a rabid conservative and would rather read the Wall Street Journal than Pharyngula, so I have a feeling we’re not necessarily related, though we might be if you have any family from the Missouri Ozarks.

  2. says

    Oldboy’s scene with octopus was extremely disturbing. I hope he doesn’t have gratuitous eating of live sentients in this movie. :/

  3. blf says

    Professor poopyhead needs to remember he’s still in an alternative world, where flights aren’t delayed, the TSA efficiently does nothing, and Korean pig spine soup is served from a kitchen in a battered blue police box. They haven’t finished building the alternative “Morris Theatre” yet — I understand the blueprints were backwards and it’s on the wrong side of the street — but in addition to correcting the spelling, it’s critical the ah, “movies”, for want of a better term, shown there will be increasingly alternative. The Handmaiden’s Octopus will probably be shown.

  4. anthrosciguy says

    The BBC series was excellent. With the excellent Sally Hawkins. The same team did another of Waters’ books, Tipping the Velvet, which was also excellent, with the excellent Rachel Stirling.

  5. Lady Mondegreen says

    Now the only question is…where can I see it? I can’t quite imagine this appearing at the Morris Theater.

    You’ll just have to visit L.A. again.

  6. heather says

    Fingersmith is an amazing book, one of my favorites. I can’t wait for the movie, either.

  7. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    He’s a well-respected octopus about town / doin’ the best things so prominently…