"You can even curse at me or steal things from me. But please don't lie to me. Understand?"
Set in 1930s Korea, the period of Japanese occupation, a new girl (Sook-Hee) is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress (Hideko) who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering Uncle (Kouzuki). But the maid has a secret. She is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese Count to help him seduce the Lady to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan until Sook-Hee and Hideko discover some unexpected emotions.
By the visionary director behind Oldboy, the vengeance trilogy, and Thirst, Park Chan-wook captures a very deceptive plot which provides plenty of twists and turns resulting in a very erotic love story.
Film making, effects, cinematography
: The Handmaiden
is clearly a work of art which is reflected by the vast array of costumes, architecture and the shots involved manage to capture the beauty yet never diminishing the quality. The movement and motion convey the fluidity of a very hierarchical pecking order, the separation of nobility from the servants, an unprecedented attention to detail even with the ongoing extreme motivation of "lust", "greed" or "deception". It never shies away from aerial views that promptly bring our gaze to the idyllic gardens or the far shots of the sea when the main characters are aboard ships. Park Chan-wook manages to achieve style and a high level of presentation, with of course substance. This is also captured and conveyed in his previous works while accompanying the shocking revelations that comes with each story being told; Sweeping and panning shots that very slowly move in time with the music
to give a lasting impression. Story, acting, character development
: This is a love story but not between who you would expect. The chemistry with the deep form of eros slowly escalates and cascades into a formidable force between Sook-Hee, the handmaiden, and Lady Hideko. It is loosely veiled by the perpetual and continuous lies that emanate from them both which wind/weave towards a transformation for our fated pair. The perverted nature of Uncle Kouzuki is seen from the erotic books and sadistic impulses that fuel his contemptuous nature, alongside a brutal (submissiveness expected from women) and violent upbringing for Hideko. The development of each character relies on a very non-linear storytelling process (flashbacks) which is triggered by the twists and revealed by the hidden motivations which stem from conman Count Fujiwara, pickpocket turned handmaiden Sook-Hee, and the pragmatic sometimes suicidal (abused upbringing) Lady Hideko.The Handmaiden is a very erotic, violent and turbulent film
and I would advise anyone of a timid/sensitive nature to perhaps refrain from watching. Anyone who is a fan of Park Chan-wook will be aware of this trend (adult content) with all his films/works but the previous warning as well for anyone that hasn't experienced/viewed them yet.
Music, score, sound
: Poignant and an elated score by Yeong-wook Jo who brings to life the stunning visuals with a haunting rendition of melody. It is another aspect which elevates The Handmaiden
into an emotional and memorable art form. A wave of vibrant, lively, mesmerising instrumental bliss equally soft or sharp depending on the severity of the scenes.
Summary and conclusion
: Overall The Handmaiden
captures the imagination and essence of an era where strict rules exist and social divides appear between Koreans and the Japanese, between nobility and the poorer classes but wait a moment; It is a love story which gets away from all of that and eventually does its own thing. We have various characters either attempting to assimilate to a foreign influence or trying to con a rich mark so they can be rich. This is a film which shows men being very one dimensional creatures, where they view women as sex objects or something to be exploited. Whereas we also have the progression of Sook-Hee, from pickpocket playing the part of handmaiden, becoming at first part of the deception and later on the receiving end of a plot. She develops a rather deep and passionate bond with Hideko and eventually we get to see what the truth is behind all the smoke and mirrors. Also who knew what and why then showing us how they get there.The Handmaiden
is a dangerous game of deception and love with this erotic, lustful exploration between two players.
"At that moment, a drop of insanity could cause one to go completely mad. If I could drive Sasaki mad as well, then life would've been more fun."8/10