[Movie Review] The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden does not shy away from making one squirm at its gory violence, its BDSM-like literature, and a twisted love-making tale of two young women. More than just an eulogised fair of the shift in power, the film always manages to stay one step ahead of its audience, allowing it to present a constant fresh take on its revelation. 

Director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an adaptation of Welsh writer Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, set in the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s. The erotic thriller was selected to vie for the coveted Cannes Palme d’Or earlier this year.

The Handmaiden – (R21 – Homosexual Content)

Language: Korean with English & Chinese subtitles
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri, Jo Jin-woong
Duration: 140 mins

Rating: 5/5

HandF1
To market it as a lesbian thriller seems like an veiled promotional tool. Beyond its exposure of female body parts pressing against each other in indulgent sex scenes, The Handmaiden is a work of an intricate multi-layered story, stacked with perverse erotism and plot twisters. Sadly, for the Singaporean audience, a good 5-minute has been cut off due to its explicit same-sex scenes.

While this reviewer is annoyedly disappointed with the edited version, The Handmaiden is still a solid near 2.5hours film that brings a strong narrative arc of female superiority, done in a twisted yet oddly satisfying way.

HandF2
Told in a 3-part chapter, the film essentially tells a story about a former pickpocket Sookee (Kim Tae-Ri) is recruited by a Korean conman who took a false identity of a rich Count (Ha Jung-Woo), to help coerce a Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-Hee) of her fortune by plotting a marriage between them. Sookee arrives at the mansion to serve her new mistress, but never forgetting her promise to the Count as she serves a double agent. As time passes by, the two young women share secrets and their desires, building an intense and complicated relationship with each other.

The first major twist comes right at the end of part one, where in the second chapter, Hideko’s point of view is being told instead, while explaining the abrupt twist.

HandF6
To break up the entire film into different chapters and string them back together again is not an arduous task to do, but to carefully edit the film while telling the same story from another character’s point of view, but giving new and refreshing scenes to explain the twist is a whole different ballgame altogether. The Handmaiden is brilliantly edited, constantly jabbing in surprises and new discoveries as the minute passes. As a viewer, you get to analyse the overall story arc from different perspectives while learning more about the characters which aids in understanding how the eventual turnout to be.

HandF3
Another point to note is the beautiful cinematography by Chung Chung-Hoon. It’s overall aesthetics for the film is simply breathtaking. Not only do the interior of the set pieces contribute to its elegant British-Japanese style, the well thought-out placement of the props and well, adult paraphernalia adds to its artistic balance.

HandF4

The Handmaiden does not shy away from making one squirm at its gory violence, its BDSM-like literature, and a twisted love-making tale of two young women. More than just an eulogised fair of the shift in power, the film always manages to stay one step ahead of its audience, allowing it to present a constant fresh take on its revelation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *