The Handmaiden

This is the new film from Chan Wook Park, director of Oldboy, Thirst and Stoker. It is good, and good fun, and will certainly keep you interested… yet, one might have forgotten all about it by a few days later, which I can’t really say about his other films.

There is the handmaiden, who is sent to serve in a gentleman’s house. He announces that he is going to host a rich woman, convince her to marry him, then dump in her an insane asylum and take her money. Things get more complicated from there, with new levels of corruption and perversion being revealed every ten minutes. There are also several, several twists, most of which you won’t see coming, which are satisfying and fun and keep you from getting bored. There’s also a whole layer of multiculturalism, with the subtitles being in different colors whether Japanese or Korean is being spoken, and a whole context around the conflict between those two cultures that most people will probably be blind to. But you’ll still get enough fun out of the movie regardless, especially if you’ve worn out your copy of Blue is the Warmest Color and want more explicit lesbian sex.

That said, it all seems a bit slight. I mean, I guess the story has more weight than Stoker—maybe it’s just because that one was in English?—but somehow this all seems a little fluffy and ends in a pat way. Of course it is all impeccably photographed and looks beautiful. And I guess in retrospect it is a lesbian love story that ends happily? Maybe it’s a sign of progress that that whole aspect seems like nothing? I don’t know, but there are worse—and better—ways to spend an evening.

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2 thoughts on “The Handmaiden

  1. Caught this on Election Night, and agree that it doesn’t have Park’s normal staying power … maybe because stories that try to do a rugpull on the audience essentially say “Ya know these characters and situations we tried to interest you in for the last 45 minutes? Well … PSYCH! Forget that – adopt THIS!” Which is a shame, because details of the movie are still quite vivid, while the overall effect is sort of tepid.

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  2. Although it doesn’t seem as in your face and sick as other Wook’s films, this one is still super twisted and hardcore. I guess violence doens’t manifest itself in a gory way – for a change, but it’s rather the sexual part which prevails. I mean an oncle has his child niece read and look at pornography for the sake of marrying her later and make her a geisha and an object of desire for gross horny old men.
    So it’s a very relative sort of tepid to me.
    I also agree that the happy end lesbian story isn’t a given and comes as a refreshing twist.
    But who knows, I watched this film together with my mother. So maybe I did find the experience extra emotionally scaring because of that too 🙂

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