Korean genre stylist Park Chan-wook is best known to Western audiences for his "Vengeance" trilogy: a trio of malevolent, blackly comic thrillers that included his 2003 breakout hit, "Oldboy." But his recent films have coalesced into an informal trilogy of their own, linked by a shared enthusiasm for gothic atmospherics and erotic psychodrama.

After "Thirst" (Catholics, vampires) and the English-language "Stoker" (psychopaths, incest) comes "The Handmaiden," a torrid suspense piece loosely based on Sarah Waters' cod-Dickensian lesbian crime novel, "Fingersmith." Park shifts the action from Victorian England to 1930s Korea, and his script, co-written with regular collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong, teases the latent absurdity out of Waters' tale.

Split into three parts, the film is initially narrated by Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a professional pickpocket who gets herself a job working as personal attendant to a wealthy Japanese heiress. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) has been living in a secluded mansion under the watch of her Korean uncle (Cho Jin-woong), a collector of rare (and very racy) literature.