Wednesday, November 16, 2016

[Review] The Handmaiden

Director Park Chan-wook puts his wicked spin on a Victorian crime novel by Sarah Walters. Retitled as The Handmaiden and set in 1930s Korea, the films works as both a gothic suspense tale and a creeping erotic thriller, or more frankly--it's an epic doozy, and I mean that in a good way.

A young woman named Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired to be the maid of Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), an extremely wealthy heiress who dwells in an opulent mansion (it's huge!). But Sook-Hee is doing more than just dusting furniture and zipping up dresses. She's actually part of a seductive scheme led by a snide con-artist who goes by "The Count" (Ha Jung-woo). Basically, the guy wants to steal Lady Hideko's inheritance. However, nothing goes as planned. And nothing is as it seems.

The slow-burning madness, along with its exquisitely grand settings and lush scenery, is gorgeously shot with really marvelous framing. The active camera glides, zooms, scans, and slithers like a snake. This twisty tale of jealousy and deception is fittingly layered with a dark yet giddy sense of humor. It's perverse. It's sensual. It's disturbing. It's luxurious. It's sweeping. It's intimate. It's classy. It's trashy. And it's all terrifically performed. The characters brim with a chemistry that alternates between cold and smothering. And an extravagant musical score cranks up the high melodrama.

The duration can be a bit long-winded, and I got the impression that it would probably be best when watched in separate chunks (the film is even divided into two distinct parts). With that said, the events still remain interesting, as the narrative back-tracks and unfolds, playing with the presentation of what's initially revealed and what isn't. So as nasty as things get, The Handmaiden is a film that keeps on giving and giving.

( 8/10 )

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  1. Glad you enjoyed it! I usually like Park Chan-wook's work, every frame is handled so well visually.
    Quite a few Asian movies I've seen have running times of close to or over two hours. Rarely are they under 90min. I don't know why that is.

    1. Yes, I love the framing. Not sure if you've seen it yet, but there's a Korean horror film from earlier this year called The Wailing. It's close to 3 hours, but it's so consistently engaging that it never really feels that long.

    2. I'll look up The Wailing. Thanks for the tip!

  2. hmm the wailing will check it out too