The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook) Review. One of the best thrillers of modern cinema

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By Sandra Milena Ríos (@sandritamrios)
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Based on novel “Fingersmith” by british writer Sara Waters, this is one of the best psychological thrillers of modern cinema.

If Waters could write a work where blends gothic with thriller in the middle of Victorian time, the same novel in the hands of genius Par Chan-wook is a film adaptation unclassifiable, where many genres work in perfect harmony, something really hard to get.

The Handmaiden goes further the limits explored by british writer and takes us into a director’s space; a colonial Korea, in the 30s, to show a fascinating and disturbing tale with intrigue, love, jealousy, obsession, drama, eroticism, domination and exquisite touches of black humor.

Sook-hee is a pickpocket who partners with a forger (Fujiwara) to steal a heritage. Fujiwara poses as a count to seduce to the young rich heiress Lady Hideko, who is under the orders of her tyrant uncle Kouzuki. Sook-hee’s mission is becoming her handmaiden to win her trust and once they are married to declare Hideko as crazy. But, what Fujiwara doesn’t keep on mind both women fall in love and weave a perfect plan to keep together.

One of the major strengths in The Handmaiden is that it is told for parts and each of those parts show three perspective of the story, three surprising versions of the same tale that can be disconcerting to audience, who is, better, a kind of nosy witness of this dark plot that happens in a luxurious house of a wealthy Japanese family. That mysterious place is, no doubt, another character in this story, that offers giant places full of information and details for this plot. Besides, it serves to emphasize those differences between social classes, but showing at same time that when ambition and passion are in play, mobs and aristocracy could be the same thing.

Taking its time, film sinks audience in a mire, very dark and questionable fields where depravity, evil, gender violence appear. For this reason, audience can take sides for what gleam as a perfect revenge. This mire touches bottom in a scene where we see to Lady Hideko being obliged to read to some “noblemen” pornographic stories in a “proper tone”. Her voice, light and music on set become that moment in one of most significant of the entire movie and whose pathos level is rewarded later with a magnificent parody scene.

In reality, all the characters keep in a grey zone, however, Chan-wook’s subtlety gives a tale where is hard doesn’t feel empathy. Talking about narrative, The Handmaiden is very close to Hitchcock style. We want to pay attention to small details in a pleasantly unsuccessful try to discover the endpoint. The two twists of its plot are astounding, quite clever and disturbing.

As impeccable as performances of the cast, specially the main roles and the unknown actress Kim Tae-ri as the handmaiden, is the design of production that is looking for, through colors and perfect takes and angles, the perturbing atmosphere of classic movies.

At the end, The Handmaiden is a classic love tale, but strongly feminine, where male domination has fallen to pieces in a compelling way.

The Handmaiden is lengthy, the running time is 02hrs:45min, and there is a director’s cut with 168 minutes. After watching it, you want to see more, just like me.

Cast & Crew

  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Screenplay: Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-kyung
  • Running Time: 145 minutos
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jng-woo, Cho Young-woong
  • Edition: Kim Sang-bum, Kim Jae-bum
  • Music: Cho Young-wuk
  • Cinematography: Chung Chung-hoon
  • Country: Corea del sur
  • Year: 2016

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