“The Handmaiden” is the latest movie from Chan-wook Park. After his Revenge-trilogy, “Thirst” and “Stoker”, my expectations were incredibly high, and even though “The Handmaiden” might not have met them completely, it nevertheless is another great entry on his filmography.
I haven’t read the novel yet on which this movie is based on, so I can’t compare the two. However, I’m now very curious to read it (even though it might take me a while to get there), which is always a good sign. I really liked the story, and especially the way it was told here (however, I obviously can’t say if the structure is the same in the book, or if that was an invention of the script). We start off from Sook-Hee’s point of view, up until the first of many twist, which in my opinion also was by far its best one. That really left me completely stunned and with my mouth open. Then, the movie doubles back, and retells the story from Lady Hideko’s perspective, and what was really masterful about that is that we suddenly get to see the other side of things and/or scenes before and after what we’ve seen before which complete the picture, even though before I didn’t really have the impression that anything was missing. The closest example than I can come up with are lenticular images, which show one picture when you look at them from one side, and then, when you tilt them, you suddenly see a different view of the same motif (like night and day, for example). That’s “The Handmaiden” in a nutshell, and one of the things that made it so fascinating for me.
“The Handmaiden” is also extremely erotic. Whether it’s the arousing sex-scenes themselves, or the stories that are read in the book club (which are sometimes enacted in some sort of dream sequences, and sometimes left to our imagination), I found “The Handmaiden” to be a highly sensual experience. Chan-wook Park’s direction was gorgeous as always, telling the story in incredibly beautiful, haunting visuals. The score was also great, and fit the movie perfectly with its elegance. It’s also incredibly well acted, with the two leading ladies standing out in particular. Both were absolutely great in their particular roles, giving many facets to their characters, and also making them very likeable so that I ended up really rooting for them. My only major complaint is the scene where they destroyed all these poor books. While I understood why they did it, it was a little bit too close to the mindset of, for example, conservatives screaming for the banning or censorship of certain books which they deem to be too dirty, unworthy, trashy or whatever – which I simply couldn’t get behind. And like so many movies at this year’s /slash Filmfestival, it was just a tad too long for its own good. Nevertheless, “The Handmaiden” is an absolutely mesmerizing film that reaffirms Chan-wook Park as one of the modern masters of cinema.