Anticipation is high for Park Chan-wook’s forthcoming The Handmaiden, set in the early years of the 20th century, the era of the Japanese occupation of Korea. So, as it happens, is this lavishly produced movie from director Kim Jee-woon: it’s a handsome double-agent spy drama, based on a true story, which was South Korea’s entry for this year’s Oscars. Song Kang-ho (a virtually iconic presence in Korean cinema, with appearances in movies from Memories of Murder to Snowpiercer) is police captain Lee Jung-Chool, a Korean national working for the 1920s Japanese occupier, but with boyhood links to resistance fighters … and lingering sympathies. He infiltrates the insurgents as they travel to China to buy explosives from a European anarchist cell. But whose side is he really on? The movie involves brash action sequences, choreographed shootouts, an old-fashioned chase on a train and brutal torture: Kim allows himself the indulgence of a violent montage to the ironic accompaniment of Louis Armstrong’s When You’re Smiling. It deploys tropes not entirely unfamiliar from movies set in occupied Paris during the second world war, with the Japanese in the Nazi bad-guy role. This film certainly believes in giving the audience bang for their buck: although it’s a little over-extended.
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic