The Handmaiden is one of the finest films you will ever see this year. It is rich with nuance, savagery and ravishing beauty. I have not seen Park Chan Woo’s most famous cult classic Oldboy. But if this is any indication, then Park is a genius. The Handmaiden is straight up badass. Adapted from the British novel Fingersmith, The Handmaiden is highly stylized and fictitious and at times a preposterous avant-garde shocker. On the outset, The Handmaiden is about a con-man posing as a count who recruits a fellow peasant to serve under the Lady hieress. The motive? To persuade the hieress into marrying the count so that he can then commit her to an asylum, and hence, take away her inheritance. But bleeding into this machiavellian plot are schemes, realities and imperfect information that shift about beneath your feet.
Park’s world is rich with class divide, as the modest innocence of servanthood is right beside the lurid fantasies enjoyed by high-society. Moments of romance are easily complemented by pure carnal drive. The appearance of female subvervience belies horrific objectification. What is seen and unseen is used in surprising ways. Sometimes, Park blindsides us, and at other times, he hides nothing. Then he turns back the clocks and shifts perspectives on the same events. Park’s narrative becomes especially nuanced. Within the conspiracy, his characters are tormented by the drivel and mess of others; Everyone is,at once, looking out for themselves and yet helplessly intertwined with the predicament of others. This might be too much for some, but Park does at least one thing right. He tugs into the gut of his monstrous creation and finds, in the unlikeliest fashion, the beating heart of his film. There is humanity to the depravity; There is sophistication in the excess.
Park’s lasvicious erotica is so unhinged and it is so beautifully shot that you just can’t take your eyes off it. It is entertaining, thoroughly engaging, fully realized and simply so twisty-turny that it becomes such a massive screwball in and of itself. Kim Min-Hee, Kim Taeri and Ha Jung-Woo were superb in their respective roles and gave us powerful projections of the individual and the burden of their duplicity. As the film went on, it quickly became clear that the film’s sexual indulgence coursed throughout ever nerve and fibre of our characters…we are left suspended in mid-air like a scene where the hieress is supported by a male mannequin in mid-air, with a noose around it’s neck. It becomes extremely edgy and uncertain when Park mixes his thickly veiled conspiracy with a pot of overflowing sexual tension. There is nothing quite like The Handmaiden.
If you’re looking for something wild beyond imagination…no scratch that…it doesn’t really matter what you’re looking for; The Handmaiden gives you what it wants. For me, it’s a beguiling experience from start to finish. Delving into the depths of human immorality, Park’s film is reignited with what it has constantly suppressed for so long. Rising from the chains of hegemony, a new strength is shown in all its colours; It is unabashed, unfettered and free. The Handmaiden is all of this and more; There’s octopus fetish, BDSM, dream sequences, trippy liasons, scheming characters, even more scheming plots, mysteries and a flourish of burning desires. But stick with the madness and you’ll find one of the most touching films you’ll ever see. This one is just pure cinema and definitely one for the ages. I love this.
Rating: 10/10 It might be my best movie of the year so far.
To give you an idea of what you’re getting into, here’s the trailer.
The awesome soundtrack