Cert: 18 Runtime: 144 mins Director: Chan-wook Park Cast: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha & Jin-woong Jo
You can even curse at me or steal things from me. But please don’t lie to me. Understand?
Probably one of the most widely acclaimed film at Cannes last year, Chan-wook Park’s return to Korean cinema. The Handmaiden was lauded as a masterpiece and a welcome return to wook. So what is The Handmaiden about? Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, a young handmaiden named Sookee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired by Hideko (Min-hee Kim), a reclusive heiress who lives in a sprawling mansion under the watchful eye of her domineering Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo). But Sookee harbours a secret – she has been recruited by Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), a scheming con artist posing as a Japanese Count, to trick Hideko into entrusting him with her fortune. However, when Sookee and Hideko begin to develop unexpected emotions for each other, they start putting together a plan of their own…
This film is pretty insane. First it is a subversion of the characters’ social classes. The maid is wise and supportive, and the handsome gentleman frees the naive and beautiful queen from her boring and superficial life. In its first part the film subverts this formula, then the second part of the film reveals a new layer of the first part, and each characters’ motivations begin to unfold into a complex and involving romantic thriller with thematic depth. Visually, the film is incredible. Every shot feels meticulously controlled by Park Chan-wook. The colour palette consistently matches the tone of the scene and the camera flows through each scene perfectly.
There is a lot of sex in this film, but it’s done tastefully and the cinematography in these scenes accurately depicts the passion of the characters. The music enhances every scene. The music in this film is amazing and gives the film the feel of an epic. The film builds slowly to start, but once it picks up it doesn’t let up. The film is tightly written and involves several complex and intriguing characters participating in complex interpersonal relationships. The performances are fantastic across the board, and although I’ve only seen the film once I can tell it may be even better on repeat viewings.