Now the movie that came sixth in the Guardian’s top 20 of 2017. It won the BAFTA this year for Best Foreign Film and was a winner at Cannes for artistic direction. It is a stunningly beautiful film, based on Sarah Waters’ novel, Fingersmith.
The Handmaiden is a ravishing crime drama from Park Chan-wook, the celebrated director of Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Thirst and, Stoker. Having transposed Waters’ story to 1930s-era colonial Korea and Japan, Park presents a gripping and sensual tale of a young Japanese lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden. Powered by remarkable performances from Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko, Ha Jung-woo as the Count and sensational debut actress KIM Tae-ri as the maid Sookee, The Handmaiden borrows the most dynamic elements of its source material and combines it with Park Chan-wook’s singular vision and energy to create an unforgettable viewing experience.
The Handmaiden is divided into three parts. The first two are mirror images of one another, presenting the same story from different perspectives. The third unites the first two and drives the narrative forward to its conclusion. Although Park isn’t the first director to employ this approach, the device works exceptionally well in this case since the viewer will not have the same interpretation of the scenario after Part 2 that he or she has after Part 1. Many of Park’s films have an underlying current of dark humor and The Handmaiden is no different. There are some very funny moments, including one literal instance of gallows humor. The lesbian sex scenes, explicit as they may be, are important to italicize the deepening relationship between the two main characters. The central sex scene is presented twice (once in Part 1 and once in Part 2) with key differences that are crucial to understanding the importance of this moment to both characters and the overall narrative.
The Handmaiden is deliciously perverse, delightfully twisty, and unapologetically erotic. Delivered with a dash of black humor and a fair amount of bare flesh, Park delves into Hitchcockian territory and delivers on what is a superb narrative, full of twists. Although the underlying premise and structure resemble those of the novel, Park adds numerous flourishes to the production and one of the film’s most notable twists is new to the screenplay. Additionally, the character of Uncle Kouzuki is filtered through Park’s worldview. Kouzuki is as twisted a monster as has appeared in any of Park’s productions, and that’s saying something. The Handmaiden may not be high art but it’s tremendous entertainment.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall