Film review: THE HANDMAIDEN, from ‘Built For Speed’

Korean Director Park Chan-wook’s thriller The Handmaiden is a bizarre and intoxicating tale of crime, seduction, greed and much more.

Set in the  Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1920’s and divided into three parts, the film sees pickpocket Sookie (Kim Tae Ri) dispatched by her her Fagan-like boss Fujiwara (Ha Jung Woo) to the imposing mansion of wealthy weirdo Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo).  Masquerading as handmaiden to Kouzuki’s niece Hideko (Min-hee Kim), Sookie’s real job is to ingratiate herself to Hideko, gather information and pave the way for the oily Fujiwara to swoop in as a pretend count and suitor and make off with Hideko’s money.  This alone could have made a fascinating crime drama but The Handmaiden has many more bizarre twists and treats in store.

Woven into the thriller story is a tale of deception, love, sexual perversion and sadism.  The film also explores the fertile but also destructive cultural collisions between Japan, Korea and the west.  The film abounds with images of this cultural intermingling, the most striking being Kouzuki’s mansion which is a strange melange of traditional Japanese and Edwardian English architecture.  This cultural mash-up is also evident in Park’s directorial style which incorporates not only Korean and Japanese cinematic styles but also evokes the work of western directors like Hitchcock in its multi-layered plot deceptions and David Cronenberg in its sexually warped creepiness.

The Handmaiden is visually stunning with its striking locations including the architecturally imposing mansion and shots framed to look like classic Japanese and Korean art.

In addition to the gothic drama and oddness there’s also a wonderfully black vein of humour running through this film.   This is also an erotic film with sexual tension infusing nearly every scene and at times erupting into borderline porn.

Some viewers will be perplexed and possibly enraged by the concerted weirdness of the Handmaiden but those who enjoy film’s that test cinematic boundaries will be enthralled.

Screening at: Cinema Nova.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Thriller.

Classification: R18+.

Director(s): Park Chan-wook.

Release date: 13th Oct 2016.

Running time: 144 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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