1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a new girl (Sookee) 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 Sookee and Hideko discover some unexpected emotions.Written by
Sublime cinema - like Hithcock with the extremity of Oldboy and the sexual candour of Blue is the Warmest Colour.
I consider Park Chan-Wook to be among the greats of cinema, alongside Scorsese, Tarantino, Fellini, Truffaut, Coppola, Tarkovsky and Nolan. So I had huge expectations going in, and boy, they were met.
TheHandmaiden is a masterpiece in pretty much every sense. It is visually exquisite, Costumes, production design, cinematography, music, all combine to create a lush vision of Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. Park Chan-Wook is a visually meticulous filmmaker and no film so far of his has showcased his knack for visual storytelling better than the Handmaiden. I went into this film totally blind, which I honestly recommend all people doing, because the plot itself unfolds in such a beautifully engineered fashion.
My best description of the film is a Rebecca-like Hitchcockian thriller with the extremity and depravity of films like Oldboy and Battle Royale, and the humanistic sexuality of Blue is the Warmest Colour. All actors are stunning in this film. The two women share an honest, tender romance that is both passionate and moving, with a refreshing candour about the nature of sexuality that is almost never seen in Hollywood productions. The Count is an incredibly charismatic performer who remains appealing despite his many despicable acts.
But as always with a Park Chan-Wook film, the real star is the director himself. The way in which this story is crafted is nothing short of engrossing. The outrageous, depraved, sexy, fascinating plot is crafted through multiple perspectives, dashing across back and forth in time, to masterfully reveal key plot points across a never less than spellbinding two hour run time. Some would say the film is slow, but I felt as though the extended running time worked in the film's favour, in order to build character to the extent that the finale for the film feels momentously epic, a real feat considering the movie showcases only four key characters.
I was utterly engrossed by this beautifully made film.
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