MOVIE REVIEW: The Handmaiden

When a young woman is hired to be the Handmaiden of young rich woman nothing is as it seems.  It turns out that she and a bogus Count are planning to con this seemingly innocent young woman out of her fortune through marriage and then place her into a Mental Hospital.  But in The Handmaiden nothing is as it seems.

When you do what I do, reviewing 5 to 10 movies a week, some thing happens to you, you start to accept the ordinary as something special, you start to think that because 80% of the movies you watch are just okay, that anything just slightly over the okay mark, is something that everyone should see.  You fall into this trap without knowing, and it’s only that when you maybe get to see the film again, and review your review, that you mark the film down.  We, film reviewers, get one chance to see these films.  We have a pretty full schedule outside what we do.  When something like The Handmaiden pops up on your radar you sit up, take notice, and beg for more.

The film isn’t what you think it is, as it starts to you think it’s almost a Jane Austen or Charles Dickens tale, but set in Korea, just after it has been taken over by Japan.  Then we find out about the con job that is going on between Sook-Hee and Count Fujiwara, and their unwilling mark Lady Hideko.  Hideko is living with the Husband of her Aunt, who hung herself, probably because her Husband is a total pervert who longs to be Japanese more than anything in the world.  He’s also grooming Hideko to be his wife.  Problems start to arise when Sook-Hee develops feelings for Hideko, and the feels are returned.  Count Fujiwara is a total scumbag and plans to elope with Hideko, with Sook-Hee’s help, and share the fortune that he’ll control when Hideko is in an asylum.  It’s only after Count Fujiwara has his wife in the Asylum that the real con job starts.

This film is beautiful to look at, from start to finish you don’t want to take your eyes off the screen because they deserve to look at something so wonderful.  The camera work is just outstanding.  Then you have the script which keeps you guessing the whole way through the film, even if you think that you know where the film is going to you don’t, and you love that feeling, I know you do, because I love that feeling.  What raises the bar even further though is the performances from all the cast, not just the main people, but every single performer in the film is spot on.  Their chemistry together just makes you happy.

With a lot of adult content and violence in the film this isn’t for the faint of heart, and from the Director who brought us the original Oldboy, what do you expect?  This film is more erotic than nearly any other film I’ve seen in the last two years.  It reminds me of The Last Seduction and The Duke of Burgundy.  Though the film is long, over the two hours and thirty minute mark, it didn’t over stay its welcome.  I cannot urge you enough to find this film and support it.  This is what we need more of in the cinema.  Dramatic, comedic, and erotic, three words I want to have written on my tombstone.  Just remember that.  I’d happily sit through this more than I’d sit through the next great American blockbuster that is going to turn us against one another.

Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Sarah Waters, Seo-kyeong Jeong, Chan-wook Park
Stars: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo

See full cast & crew


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