The Handmaiden tells the intricate story of Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean girl who's descended from pickpockets, thieves and scammers that's been raised to follow a similar path to that of her predecessors. Sook-hee is undeniably talented and beautiful, but is perhaps a little too overconfident in her abilities and her life experiences. Sook-hee is recruited by Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a greedy swindler who's Korean by birth, but pretends to be Japanese nobility. The "Count" agrees to pay Sook-hee a certain amount so she can help him fleece a Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) out of her considerable fortune. This takes place at a time when the Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s. Lady Hideko is under the thumb of her authoritarian Uncle Kouzuke (Cho Jin-woong) who makes her read these perverse "Sade-like" (Marquis de Sade) books in front of upper class Japanese men who might be in the market to buy some erotic, and expensive books from him.
The Handmaiden is a visually gorgeous and utterly resplendent movie. The house and its surroundings is absolutely gorgeous, and It's shot steadily and confidently, but that's to be expected considering it was directed by Park Chan-wook. There's plenty of long takes throughout and there's a certain smoothness that comes from his assured direction that's highly evocative. There's exquisite cinematography, framing and phenomenal production values. The sound editing was used creatively as audio from other events would bled over into different moments throughout the movie. The dialogue would switch between diegetic sound a character's inner monologue as well. The real beauty of The Handmaiden for me though is its multilayered story and how it all unfolds. It reminded me a little bit of how The Hateful Eight's narrative was put together. The Handmaiden is split up between the three main characters, giving us an insight to every angle that these characters were playing at while never undermining the suspense of the movie. That's a credit to the clever editing of the movie. At no point did I really feel like I had the movie figured out. It's great fun to watch a thriller like this and not know where it's going. So many movies nowadays are predictable and relatively easy to figure out, but not this one. Things admittedly started to come together towards the end, but I was never sure that I had it all figured out.
The actors were all fantastic too, especially the two leading ladies who really put themselves out there in order to tell this salacious story. Sook-hee surprisingly provided some genuinely funny moments too. Quite a few moments of subtle, but very funny comedy in what was a very hefty movie. Sook-he provided most of the emotion for me too, as she started out as the young and opportunistic woman who was seemingly 'wise beyond her years', but it soon became apparent that she had cluelessly wandered into a den of duplicitous and deceitful snakes that would swallow her whole. There was also the dichotomy going on between her heart and her mind that kept me intrigued. The inherit contradiction between her upbringing and her growing conscience. The same goes for Lady Hideko, maybe even more so, seeing as she was such a curiously fickle sociopath. It may seem like a predictable situation on paper, but the execution of it was anything but.
The Handmaiden is a beautifully mysterious and disturbing movie on almost every level. It's intriguing, engrossing, and captivating. I saw this movie only having seen the one trailer for it below, which thankfully gave away very little, so I was taken on a swirling odyssey of love, betrayal, and lies. These are the sorts of trailers that Hollywood needs to start making for movies, and this is what I wrote about here. Trailers that merely give us a vague tease of the movie, not trailers that basically give us an abridged version of the movie. The most recent example I can think of is the trailer for Goon 2. That trailer is the movie in a nutshell. Seeing movies like this makes me miss the psychological and erotic thrillers that we really don't see much of anymore. And it truly astonishes me that this movie was made for less than $9 million. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you can still see how beautiful the movie looks from the trailer alone, and just think, less than $9 million. Makes me wonder where all the money goes on a lot of Western productions.
Written by - The Sentry - 06/03/2017