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Money is the root of all evil
If anyone imagined how a Greek tragedy would look if it was set in feudal Japan, look no further. It is a harrowing, exhausting, depressive experience, but it's worth it. The film follows a once great warrior, now a Ronin (for those unfamiliar, Ronin is a samurai without a master), named Gengobe, who has sold all of his property to repay his debts. He is in love with a geisha who is to be married to a rich lord, unless someone pays 100 Ryō for her liberty. Once he realizes that he was being played by this geisha and her husband, of whose existence he was unaware of, he becomes hell bent on revenge.
The film emits a strange sense of reality distortion. The film begins with a dream sequence, that is somewhat foreshadowing of things to happen. This theme is prevalent throughout the film. We can see things unfolding, only to realize that it was just a thought, or a fantasy of a certain characters. Reality tends to be different, albeit sometimes it can lead to the same conclusion. What was particularly striking was the way the graphic scenes of violence were portrayed. They were slowed down, they almost feel other-wordly, yet these graphic scenes are strangely beautiful. Highly contrasted Black and white cinematography helps this, we see characters illuminated against dark background like phantoms and the black blood coming out of the wounds becomes even more noticeable.
Shura is a tale of vengeance than leads all the parties involved into an abyss of some sort. There is no bright light at the end of the tunnel. Because of mere 100 Ryō, these people have turned into "Demons" and they're lives became "Hell". This film isn't disturbing because of its visual content, but because of its emotional impact. Gengobe isn't a typical hero, the reason why one would want to root for him is because he is an agent of justice (like Monte Cristo), but not because he himself is a virtuous hero worth rooting for. It's easy to hate most, if not all of the characters, but at the same time, it's difficult not to feet pity for them. Seldom comes a film that makes one feel this way.
This film is not for everyone, it's extremely pessimistic, it doesn't offer glimmers of hope. It's not an easy watch, but it's worth it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in film as an art form.
Tour De Force!
The controversial film from Korean master Chan-wook Park evokes the sexiness of Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Colour" and Park's own signature violence and thrills. Set in the 1930s Japanese occupied Korea, it's a story of a young female pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) who becomes a handmaiden to a beautiful Japanese heiress (Min-hee Kim). However, she must manage to convince the heiress to marry a conman (Jung-woo Ha) who poses as a count, for which she will get a chance for a better life. She gets into a moral dilemma when she starts developing feelings for the heiress.
The Handmaiden is a triumph on every level. The film is divided into three chapters, all giving different perspective. This way, the story is perfectly structured to give more and more insight as the film progresses, but at the same time, keep the viewers guessing. It offers a few surprises along the way as well. Visually, it's a feast for the eyes. The term "every frame a painting" gets overused, but it really fits here. I'm not only talking about cinematography, which offered plenty of memorable shots and beautiful scenery, but the costume and set design. The three leads all gave terrific performances. Musical score by Yeong-wook evokes, or better said, amplifies the emotions and the suspenseful tone. Despite the run time of 2 hours and 24 minutes, it never gets dull, it's very evenly paced throughout. I couldn't look away for a second.
One thing needs to be addressed, the film is quite explicit. That being said, it never gets vulgar, the sex scenes are done in perfect taste, they never feel out of place and they're not there just for the sake of it. The relationship between the characters and the physical presentation of it are integral to the film. It's a film about passion, abuse, jealousy, betrayal and deception, but most of all, it's an atypical love story, which will make one love and hate the protagonists at the same time. It's original and daring work of art that will stick with viewers long after it's finished.
Whenever Chan-wook Park makes a film, it must undoubtedly be compared to his masterpiece, "Oldboy". I don't think that "The Handmaiden" surpasses it, but it comes very close. With this film, he proved himself to be one of the greatest working directors today. It's the best film I've seen this year, one that I can't wait to revisit. It's not to be missed.