The Handmaiden

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Name: 아가씨, The Handmaiden
Creator: Park Chan-wook (producer, director, screenwriter)
Date(s): 2016
Medium: Film
Country of Origin: South Korea
External Links:
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The Handmaiden is a critically-acclaimed erotic psychological thriller set in 1930s Korea (under Japanese colonial rule). The story line follows the burgeoning relationship between Nam Sook-hee, a Korean maid and thief; and Lady Izumi Hideko, a Japanese heiress with an abusive uncle (Uncle Kouzuki).


The fandom for The Handmaiden is very small when measured by fanworks and communities; however, meta and discussion among fans is fairly present on Tumblr. Fanfiction for The Handmaiden is extremely rare; as of April 2020, there are only 31 works on AO3, several of which are fanvids.[1].Fanart, fanvids, meta, and GIFS are more common, although still rare.

The overwhelming majority of transformative works and discussion are focused on the canonical f/f relationship of Izumi Hideko/Nam Sook-hee. The film itself dealt with themes of colonialism, abuse, gender, sexual assault, and kink; this is reflected in fanworks. Fanworks are often examples of future fic, extending the canonical happy ending. The Handmaiden is often compared by fans to other LGBT films, such as Moonlight and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

The film inspired a debate among fans and professional critics as to whether the numerous sex scenes were objectifying/an example of the male gaze or a good portrayal of lesbian sexuality.

Example Fanworks

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.





Fannish Debate over Objectification

[gaysailormoon] "I think the reason The Handmaiden was written off, was because it had too many sex scenes. But it sucks because usually when films are about “reclaiming female sexuality” it’s total bullshit, but this is like the one (1) case where it’s actually true. I mean Hideko had been groomed and sexually objectified by her uncle her whole life, but was then able to escape her male oppressor with the woman she loves and not have a bad association to her sexuality anymore. Sook-Hee even destroys the smut library Hideko was forced to read to perverted men, as an act of justice! So the fact that people think that’s it’s ‘male gaze lesbian porn’ is just…sad…like you missed the whole point! How ironic if you! I mean the sex scenes could be less graphic, but they certainly don’t come from a place of trying to get off men…"[2]
[amberscharming] "Like yeah there were a couple of sex scenes and yeah they were naked but it was an incredibly moving and beautiful story that just also had some naked people and that’s also part of what made it so beautiful and I’m just tired of straight people calling media or movies pornographic just because two women have sex like yeah it’s explicit but it’s not outright pornographic and there was so much more to the story than just the sex scenes stop reducing lesbians to just sex stop sexualizing lesbians stop treating lesbians as only a porn category 2k19"[3]
[mintfrosting] "sorry not sorry but i hate The Handmaiden (2016) because its sex scenes are terribly pornified, male gazey, and make me feel disgusting. it’s awful and no i can’t just get past that or let it go. i don’t care about the library scene. fuck that movie and fuck its stupid male director."[4]
[tinyrats] "i consider the handmaidens sex scenes gratuitous but i also think this film is a beautiful if at times clumsy work that simultaneously critiques pornography by men and blatantly celebrates sex and intimacy between gay women. almost every man in this film projects onto hideko and theyre portrayed as monsters for their dehumanization of women as well as the sexual violence they commit. its fucking gratifying that regardless of her trauma hideko manages to find solace in the arms of sookhee"[5]
[ohmuqueen] "The Handmaiden sex scenes are not framed in a voyeuristic/male-gazey fashion. I understand if you judge them to be too long, but that’s personal preference, not evidence that they are “male-gazey” scenes. If you watch the sex scenes in The Handmaiden, you notice several things: 1) the scenes are designed to show the two women’s love for each other growing, not to “treat” the male viewers. The sex scenes have narrative significance. 2) the framing of these scenes does not focus on the women’s boobs or genitalia. In the entire film, there are only certain points that the camera focuses on either women’s breasts, and again, it has narrative significance."[6]

Archives and Communities


  1. ^ AO3 works "The Handmaiden 2016" (Accessed May 1, 2020)
  2. ^ tumblr post by gaysailormoon, Archived version
  3. ^ Untitled Tumblr Post, Archived version by amberscharming. Posted February 2nd, 2019. (Accessed May 4, 2020)
  4. ^ Untitled Post, Archived version by mintfrosting. (Accessed May 4, 2020).
  5. ^ Untitled Tumblr Posts, Archived version by users tinyrats and many-bees.
  6. ^ Untitled: "I watched The Handmaiden for a fourth time, and now that I had time to absorb the visuals", Archived version by ohmuqueen. (Accessed May 5, 2020).