×

Cannes: Is Park Chan-wook Playing Games When He Calls ‘Handmaiden’ Cute?

When the director of “Oldboy” and “Stoker” calls his new movie “cute” it is time to ask whether the Korean maestro has lost his mind or is playing some kind of elaborate parlor game.

The parlor setting would be eminently appropriate for Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden,” which plays this weekend in Cannes’ main competition. The film is an adaptation of sorts of British novelist Sarah Waters’ Victoria era “Fingersmith.” Park has relocated the film both temporarily and geographically, to early 20th century Japanese-occupied Korea, a period of decadence and turmoil.

“In order to bring the Victorian setting of the original novel to Korea, it had to be the 1930s. It had to be a time where the hierarchical society still exists, when wealthy people owned personal servants; and a time where psychiatric hospitals, one of the major settings of the film, existed. These only came to being in Korea during the Japanese colonial era” Park said with a wink, when Variety caught up with him in Korea earlier this month.

“With so many juicy small details here and there, I would say it is the most colorful work of mine,” he adds while still not quite addressing the point.

“It’s not a theme that’s been dealt with in Korea’s commercial film industry, so it could be called unique,” he told local media, while spinning out the climax.

The tangential approach seems to be another attempt by Park to keep the film’s lesbian component as fresh and as possible and to save up its shock value for as close as possible to its festival and commercial launch.

Earlier this year, when financier and world sales agent CJ Entertainment announced that it had licensed the picture in over 140 territories, including Amazon for the U.S., the company contacted Variety seeking to play down the same-sex plotline for a few more months longer.

Sweet or no, expect some fireworks. The project was brought to Park, by Lim Seung-yong, who previously worked introduced him to the manga that later became “Oldboy.” “I was charmed by the book. Each character is vivid and alive, and the dramatic reversal at the end was surprising. I thought it was a good timing for me to make a Korean-language film as well, because my last piece was an English-language one,” Park said.

Park is held in massive esteem by both the Korean industry and by Hollywood, but that may come at both a personal and a professional price. He has a reputation as a detail-obsessed monomaniac, and someone who makes cast and crew work long hours. Park suggests that obsession is also a façade.

“I’m as worried as everybody else, but since everyone is looking to me, I can’t be fazed. I have to be like a captain leading a ship. I wish I could be a cold person.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content