Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930’s, The Handmaiden tells the tale of a young pickpocket, Sookhee. Chosen by her cohorts to pose as a Handmaiden in the countryside where an elderly book collector lives with his Japanese heiress niece, Lady Hideko. The handmaiden is tasked with a hidden agenda to convince Lady Hideko to marry, Count Fujiwara, a friend of her uncles and secretly the swindler who pick Sookhee as the handmaiden. Their true plan is inherit their riches and rob them blind with Fujiwara and Sookhee share their plunders. But, does it go to plan? No! this is a Park Chan Wook film!
Oh Jeezo! Park Chan Wook will leave jaws slack and our minds into overdrive with his adaptation of Sarah Waters “The Fingersmith”. It was bloody great watch! A visual treat and not just because there’s lassies shagging in it! Come on now! This film has the lot, suspense, an excellent story, beautiful set design, the score is entrancing and hell, I love Park Chan Wooks dark, dark sense of humour. Could you grab my trousers?
The Handmaiden garnered a lot of attention online when trailers revealing glances at some very explicit lesbian sex – as you can expect: everyone got dizzy, It was Blue is the Warmest Colour all of again. I went into viewing this film with only the knowledge that the film gets filthy at some point and I am so glad that there was so much more to praise the film for about the Handmaiden. The second and third acts of the film will grab your attention and take it on a rollercoaster ride that will disgust you, tease you and it will leave you rooting for these characters – begging for it turns out right for everyone caught up in this sordid tale.
Park Chan Wook gave us the opportunity to spend two and a half hours intimately getting two know four very complex characters. Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri are outstanding, they’ve earned every award that they’ve had thrown at them. Watching a relationship build between subtle glances and brief contact is handled beautifully. Kim Tae-ri being an actress with very little acting work beforehand played this coy young woman excellently – whilst looking naive it was great to see her narration of her sordid past.
Kim Min-hee’s performance is outstanding as well, the innocence and naivety of Lady Hideko is so disarming. Wait until you meet the Mistress though, it’s a spellbinding performance. Just keep an eye on the gloves she’s wearing as the story progresses – it’s very much like one of the artistic choices Park Chan Wook chose for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
The leading men in this feature equally deserve praise as well as their female counterparts. The Chaser star’ Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara was excellent – he’s a desperate man, on the cusp of untold riches and he’s plays a very emotional character; he’s either knocking over furniture, bumbling and stuttering in awe of Lady Hidekos beauty or gobbling up peaches acting grotesque towards his Lady – smoking his dirty roll up cigarettes.
Jo Jing-Woong plays the role of the Old vile Uncle Kouzuki – what a great role to play, his hold over his family, the second half of the film shows him when he’s younger – but Christ he makes Darth Vader’s force choke a joke in comparison on the hold he has over his family.
Whilst I love this film, there is not any negative points, but merely a a cringe worthy moment. Out of content, it’s that shot of Sookhee looking into the camera sticking her tongue out, you will know it when you see it – it made me wince and caused a little chuckle or two.
We received the standard Blu-Ray release from Curzon Artificial Eye, whilst it has a lovely menu set up which replicates some ancient Japanese artwork, the only additional extra given is a trailer for the Handmaiden. Basically, they are really wanting you to buy The Handmaiden Special Edition Blu-ray which comes with an extended version of the film, footage from the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, a director’s interview and more! I wouldn’t bother with this standard Blu-Ray, if you are uncertain of your purchase – whether it’s worth your money or not – just buy the DVD.
Overall – The Handmaiden is a must watch movie! Any interest in Asian Cinema? Must see! Any interest in excellent story blossom across 140 minutes – go buy this movie! It’s stunning, I cannot recommend it enough, although, I wouldn’t watch it with my gran! The bells! The bells! Oh no.
THE HANDMAIDEN is available on Standard DVD/Blu-ray – Theatrical Cut, Special Edition 2 disc Blu-ray – Theatrical & Extended Cut and Sainsbury’s exclusive 2 disc DVD edition – Theatrical & Extended Cut on 7th August from Curzon Artificial Eye.