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The Handmaiden: 5 movies that influenced Park Chan-wook's thrilling, erotic mystery

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Few filmmakers in the world know how to tell a story — in all of its richness and drama and pure cinematic pleasure — like South Korea’s Park Chan-wook. The 53-year-old director of Oldboy, Thirst, and Stoker is famed for his unique mixture of violence and mordant humor, while also being an extremely overt visual stylist.

In his hands, the camera is always swooping and zooming and roving like a tiger in heat. His movies are vibrantly alive with the electric energy of a ripe imagination at work, and watching them can seem a bit more like exploring a giant playgrounds than cinema. 

Park’s newest movie is The Handmaiden (in select theaters now and expanding in coming weeks), a florid, wildly sexy mystery based on a 2003 British novel by Sarah Waters. The plot involves a young woman (Kim Tae-ri) who’s hired as a servant for a beautiful heiress (Kim Min-hee) as part of an elaborate con. But circumstances change when feelings — and lots of graphic sex — get involved.

“Park Chan-wook has always had a stunningly cinematic eye,” EW’s Kevin P. Sullivan said in his review of the film, “but he’s better known for gouging someone else’s out. In The Handmaiden, he demonstrates a lightness and humor unseen in his previous work.” 

Park has been a tremendous influence on other directors (his biggest fan: Quentin Tarantino), but we checked in with him to find out five of his movie inspirations for The Handmaiden. We broke it down by subgenre — and Park certainly wasn’t shy about revealing his reasons for why these titles influenced or moved him.

 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The movie is based on Fingersmith, which takes place in Victorian England. What’s your favorite movie set in that time and place?

PARK CHAN-WOOK: Roman Polanski’s Tess, for Nastassja Kinski’s beauty.

 

Not including your own great revenge trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), what is your favorite movie about revenge?

Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, for Zoe Tamerlis’ beauty.

 

What is your favorite “plot-twist” movie — or if you’d rather, when was the last time a plot-twist really surprise and fooled you?

Atom Agoyan’s recent film, Remember. I loved the change of expression that comes over the face of Christopher Plummer when he comes face to face with the truth.

 

What is your favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie? Or which one did you think about the most while making The Handmaiden?

I wasn’t thinking about Hitchcock specifically while I was making The Handmaiden, but my favorite has to be Vertigo, particularly for the scene where the real character that Kim Novak plays, Judy, fully becomes the character of Madeline, and her transformation from one to the other is complete.

 

What do you consider the best erotic thriller – a mystery movie where sex is an integral part of the plot?

The best for me is Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, especially for the sequence where there is a fragmented sex scene between a man and his wife [Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie], interweaved with an intricate series of flash-forwards.