Starring Min-hee Kim, Kim Tae-ri, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Best known for his 2003 international cult classic Old Boy, South Korean director Chan-wook Park has been making waves with his latest The Handmaiden. Crafted specifically for the stereotypical, single, live at home, surrounded by comic book memorabilia fan boy; The Handmaiden titillates more than it entertains. Told in a Quentin Tarantino chapter style, involving quite a few twists and turns, typically accompany this sort of mythology. The look of the film is expectedly extraordinary, set in both South Korea and Japan during the 1920’s. The Handmaiden would make the fans of Fifty Shades of Grey blush with its naughty themes, it’s more live action Hentai than it is commercial cinema.
Count Fujiwara (Ha) isn’t really a count, but he has devised a plan with a lowly servant girl to trick the rich, young impressionable Lady Hideko (Kim) out of her fortune. Sook-Hee (Tae-ri) will become the Lady’s new handmaiden, get close to her, and push the beautiful heiress toward the count. He will marry her, then have her locked up due to mental instability, splitting her fortune with those who helped him. Nothing is as Sook-Hee imagined however, she feels drawn to Lady Hideko, becoming friends with her, then lovers. Torn between her mission and the heart’s desire, Sook-Hee devises a plan of own.
Offers stimulation, intrigue and a highly stylized vision, it also begins to wain after the surprise at the end of chapter two.
In the film, Sook-Hee is introduced to the mansion where Lady Hideko resides. It’s explained that the house was created from the South Korean’s admiration of European style. The musical score by Yeong-wook Jo also sounds greatly influenced by modern dramas out of the UK. All of this just pays tribute to Sarah Waters from Wales, who wrote the novel which with film is based. While objections can and will be made regarding the treatment and view of the female characters, Waters work, adapted by Park, integrates the treatment of women in the 20’s but also the reclaiming of sexual power. It goes beyond just the tease, with more graphic nudity than I can remember in a mainstream Asian film. If the characters in this story were gender flipped, The Handmaiden would have zero to little fanfare and be relegated to some back corner straight to DVD release. The subject matter preys on the fact that most film critics/movie goers are young males 25-40.
The Handmaiden does offer something different, both in the realm of international cinema, Korean films and drama. If you are not a 15-35 year old male, The Handmaiden might be a bit of an assignment, running at two and half hours. Park goes into detail exploiting the two women’s sexual discovery as well as the films other lewd subject matter and dark back story. His previous film, the English language Stoker, also dealt with dark sexual misgivings enveloped in a mystery plot. While this film certainly offers stimulation, intrigue and a highly stylized vision, it also begins to wain after the surprise at the end of chapter two. Audiences familiar with these types of Asian drama’s and Tarantino’s work will be able to anticipate the rest of the plot.
Live action stylized Hentai fantasy for the comic book nerd.