Ah-ga-ssi [The Handmaiden] (2016)

Director: Chan-wook Park
Writer: Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park
Based on: Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith
Cast: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo, Hae-suk Kim, So-ri Moon
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 25.9.2016
[Review by cornholio.]

Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) lives with her adoptive family who ply their trade as thieves and with various cons. When a regular collaborator with them, called Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), suggests a new con, Sook-Hee suddenly finds herself training to become a maid to the rich Hideko (Min-hee Kim), one of the Japanese occupiers in Korea. Hideko lives in a remote estate with her uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo), an avid book collector. The Count was a guest of theirs and saw the perfect opportunity: he would marry Hideko and then get rid of her, but keep her money. All he needs is a confidante who makes sure that Hideko makes the right decisions. And so Sook-Hee travels to the estate to make sure their plan goes off without a hitch.

I expected many things from the film, since I both loved the book it’s based on and Park’s Vengeance Trilogy and Stoker. Happily it all managed to keep up with my expectations. It’s a beautiful and gripping film.

The one thing that bothered me a lot about The Handmaiden was how absolutely filled with the male gaze it is. Much like Blue Is the Warmest Color, it’s way too noticeable that there was a dude filming this who is very much into watching women fuck, so he makes them do it a lot. Contrary to Blue Is the Warmest Color, it was pretty much the only fault the film had in my eyes.

That Park is a director who knows how to handle visuals is nothing new, but this film is amazingly refined – from the costumes to the set to the lighting to the general camera work (minus the male gaze), it’s a feast for the eyes. (And many things are highly symbolic as well – just look at the poster.)

I also loved the changes made to the story by the script. Not only is the setting absolutely perfect despite being transplanted over half the world and a hundred years, but the film fixes the weak last third of the novel in an excellent – and much faster – manner. But the script also knew when to stick with the original story and that amazing twist still twists perfectly even when you already know it.

It’s a tense, beautiful film with a great cast. And did I mention how absolutely gorgeous it looks? Because it’s simply stunning. Due to its many strengths, I’m willing to forgive the voyeurism, even if I wish it had done without it. But still, The Handmaiden is great cinema, there’s not much else you can say about it.

Summarizing: Gets this close to perfection.

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