I’ve been a fan of Park Chan-wook after watching Oldboy for the first time and following on from that discovering Korean cinema. I believe he’s outdone himself with his latest movie The Handmaiden. This is an exquisitely crafted movie and I think it will be remembered as a masterpiece in years to come. The Handmaiden is an erotic psychological drama that focuses on the relationship between two women. To say anymore more about the films plot would be to spoil the experience of this movie. The story goes in many interesting directions and keeps you guessing as to what the characters true motivations and intent are for a good portion of the film. I was engrossed from start to end, no mean feat for a film that’s two and a half hours long. The film is split up into three parts, which each new part re-contextualising what’s happened before and allowing you to see events unfold from different perspectives.
Each character is brilliantly written and flawlessly performed by the actors. Each actor fully embodies their characters and play each role to perfection, especially the two lead actresses. I am looking forward to revisiting this film with the knowledge of how things play out to try and see the subtleties in the performances early on that may allude to the characters intentions. This is a movie that I feel will benefit from repeat viewings.
The film is a visual treat. The cinematography is beautiful and really helps communicate the films story with intimate close ups at key moments. The colours on display here are gorgeous too with lovingly created sets and stunning locations used. I really liked how the shots were framed and the movement of the camera in certain scenes. While I will concede after my first viewing I may not have grasped the reasoning behind the camera moves, I certainly noticed how dynamic the camera work was and I feel it helped keep me engaged throughout. The score is also beautiful and it was utilised brilliantly to illicit an emotional response out of the viewer.
Much has been made no doubt about the film’s explicit sex scenes. While they are certainly graphic they do not feel gratuitous as they serve a clear purpose in the film’s narrative and to the characters. That being said this is not a movie to watch with your parents. This is a Park Chan-wook movie so expect it to get somewhat fucked up at certain points…
The film also subverts gender norms with the women pulling the strings here and overcoming the controlling men in their lives without it beating you over the head. This is confounded with the film being set in Korea in the early 1900’s. The men in this movie scheme, manipulate and abuse women but the female characters are never treated as victims but rather strong, capable characters who are able to claim their power back.
Overall I absolutely loved this movie and don’t really have anything negative to say about it right now. There was a rather odd scene inserted towards the end that threw me but other than that this film is masterfully done. I was engrossed the entire time and adored the stories twists and turns and the psychological aspects involved. This is a beautiful movie on every level and one that I will be revisiting again. I saw the theatrical version and will be checking out the extended version to see if the additional time adds anything to the story.