Park Chan-Wook is building a reputation for great films, such as Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. In The Handmaiden, an erotic psychological thriller, he weaves a tale of love, deception and revenge in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s. His style of filmmaking makes it an unabashedly sexual yet horrifically violent film while also making it such a beautiful work of art.
A Complicated Love Story Borne Of Complicated Times
Sooki, a spirited female pickpocket from a family of crooks, conspires with a fake count, Count Fujiwara, into marrying Lady Hideko for her money before dumping her in an asylum. But Lady Hideko lives with an aristocratic uncle, Kouzuki who forces her to read ancient erotica to his peers before selling the books. The four people’s lives cross with a few living happily ever after and a few putting an end to their lives.
Sooki and Lady Hideko fall in love – yes, it’s a lesbian love story that resonates in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences – and turn the tables on the men. The manner with which the two women fall in love and the two meet their fates are as complicated and complex as human relationships. This is a film that not only depicts humans falling in love but humans fulfilling their dreams, perhaps at the expense of others.
A Balance of Startling Sensitivity and Bluntness
Park Chan-Wook being a former film critic has contributed to his filmmaking style. He has a knack of blending scenes with startling sensitivity and surprising bluntness, often in the same sequence.
For example, the blossoming love affair between Sooki and Lady Hideko is at first tenderly observed with the ladies exchanging subtle glances and fleeting touches. But there’s a love scene that’s as blunt as can be without becoming soft porn material, which expresses the deep yet tender love the characters have developed for each other.
The director and actors have made an elegant film with a dense plot, as enthralling in its twists and turns as it is enchanting in its presentation. You will only be able to appreciate its beauty when watching it on the big screen, such as in a Harkins theater. You may have seen movies with similar plot lines but not as elegantly executed frame by frame as The Handmaiden.
And be prepared to be surprised as nothing is what it actually seems, while everything isn’t what it actually is. If that seems confusing, then you have more reasons to see the movie because then your confusion can be cleared.