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.