Looking Back on Colonial Korea: Nostalgia and Anti-Nostalgia in Park Chang-wook’s "The Handmaiden"

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Andrew Kim


This article examines how South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s 2016 film The Handmaiden (Agassi) retrospects on Korea’s late colonial period by keeping out of reach any unproblematic return to Korean sovereign nationality. Instead, the film keeps the tense suspended in a “futureless” colonial modernity where characters navigate the perceived dead end of Japanese cultural imperiality and patriarchy. This article considers how the liberal cosmopolitan subjectivity offered to oppressed women in the film may not sufficiently emancipate them from the larger global colonial matrix. In fact, the film’s anti-nostalgia for the Japanese colonial period may work to displace national identifications and assert a contemporary nostalgia for English modernity.

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