Carnal pleasures and clever plotting combine in Park Chan-wook’s thrilling The Handmaiden, while Scarlett Johansson is a woman of steel
Eastern and western identities cross over to striking effect in two of this week’s major DVD releases. Where the English-language, Scarlett Johansson-led Ghost in the Shell (Paramount, 12) took flak in many quarters for “whitewashing” a beloved Japanese manga, South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook’s mischievous The Handmaiden (Curzon Artificial Eye, 18) balances the scales a little by giving a radiant Asian makeover to the brittle Victorian mystique of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith.
As adaptations go, Park’s is far the more fearlessly individual. The slinky mechanics of Waters’s uncorseted mystery survive intact, but relocating the action to Japanese-occupied 1930s Korea adds tissue-fine layers of political and erotic complexity to an already ornately knotted mystery. Even at their most hot and heavy, the novel’s deviously entwined lesbian lovers might have blushed in response to some of the tentacle porn served up by Park here, though The Handmaiden consistently prizes sensualism over shock.