Cannes: South Korea Rejoices as 'The Handmaiden' Is Selected to Compete for Palme d'Or

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment
'The Handmaiden'

Park Chan-wook's lesbian thriller is the first Korean film in four years that will vie for the top prize, while 'Gokseong' and 'Train to Busan' will show in out-of-competition sections.

South Koreans rejoiced following the announcement Thursday that The Handmaiden, a new lesbian thriller by Park Chan-wook, will compete for the Palme d'Or at Cannes next month.

Park will return to the Croisette a dozen years after taking home the Grand Prix honor in 2004 for the cult favorite Oldboy.

This is the first time in four years that a South Korean film has been shortlisted for the top prize at the prestigious French festival since Im Sang-soo's Taste of Money and Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country in 2012. Onlookers here have expressed much disappointment as Cannes has overlooked South Korea in recent years.

The Handmaiden, a CJ Entertainment title that made headlines after being presold to over 100 territories, is based on the British novel Fingersmith. Set during the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945), the film is about an orphan girl (newcomer Kim Tae-ri) who is hired by a con-man (Assassination's Ha Jung-woon) to win the trust of a wealthy heiress (Right Now, Wrong Then's Kim Min-hee), only to end up falling for her.

The Handmaiden is one of the year's most anticipated titles, as it marks Park's first local project since the 2009 vampire film Thirst, after which he made his English-language film debut with Stoker, starring Nicole Kidman, in 2013.

Meanwhile, two other highly anticipated blockbusters of the year have been invited to show in other programs at Cannes: Gokseong and Train to Busan.

Gokseong, the latest local project by Fox International Productions Korea, will bow in the out-of-competition section. The mystery-thriller by Na Hong-jin chronicles a strange string of deaths that occur in a tiny rural village following the arrival of a stranger. Both of Na's two previous films have previously been invited to Cannes: The Chaser received a Midnight Screening in 2008, while The Murderer (a.k.a. The Yellow Sea) was screened in the Un Certain Regard section in 2011.

"There one thing that is absolutely necessary when presenting genre films on a given budget to audiences: It has to be told in an entertaining way. In other words this means that, while [Korean] movies may strive to be artistic, they are often not purely artistic. They're commercial films," said Na earlier this month when asked about his expectations for Cannes given his track record. "I don't really keep festivals in mind [when I make movies] … but I'd be grateful if they do invite me."

Train to Busan, the first live-action film for critically acclaimed animator Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs, The Fake), will receive a Midnight Screening. In the action-thriller, chaos ensues as a deadly virus sweeps through Korea and passengers on a bullet train from Seoul to the southern port city of Busan must fight for their survival. The Next Entertainment World (NEW) pic has garnered attention as there have been few local disaster movies since the enormous success of the 2009 tsunami blockbuster Tidal Wave (a.k.a. Haeundae).

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