Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Seo-Kyung Chung, Chan-wook Park
The sex versus violence controversy has always been pretty fascinating. There was a scene in the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” where a naked zombie walked across the street. That was deemed too graphic so blood was digitally smeared across the window, as the lead watched through a car, to cover the zombies erotic unmentionables. That’s one of many examples where violence was ostensibly judged less profane than sex.
I think I get it though. Violence is more in the realm of fantasy than sex. The average bloke is more likely to have sex than shoot a zombie, fight off terrorists in a skyscraper, or go on a slick revenge tour because of a murdered dog given by their dead wife. So in that case, violence in tv and movies has less of an impact than sex. The general populace can recognize the power sex. They have an idea of its potential to please as well as corrupt.
“The Handmaiden” is the erotic thriller directed by the wonderfully talented Park Chan-Wook. In 1930’s Korea a quick-witted pick pocket named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-Ri) is hired to be the handmaiden for a reclusive and delicate heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). Little does Lady Hideko know that a con man by the name of Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-Woo) has recruited Sooki-hee to imbed the idea that he’s a miraculous man and she should marry him.
The plan is Hideko would marry Fujiwara, he’d collect the money, split it with Sook-hee, and dump off Hideko at a mental institution. That’s a lot to ingest, right? Well, strap in, because that’s practically the first fifteen minutes. I didn’t even get into the intricate chaos that is the house. The majority of the film takes place in a beautifully crafted mansion designed with a Japanese and English collaboration in its architecture. The owner of the house is a book collector and has amassed a fortune from his collection.
Alright, the cynic in me does not believe in the idea of a “perfect” film. I always believe the idea to be an overly romanticized endeavour and the potential of art is left to “better” or “worse.” “The Handmaiden” has me dumbfounded. I don’t know what to say? It’s pretty damn amazing. Every facet of production is the perfect jigsaw piece to a wondrous mural. It’s cinematography complements the editing, the wardrobe heightens the performances, the script amplifies the production design, the score enhances the cinematography and the angelic quantum spiral continues.
As far as the story, there are many twists involved, but they’re not firmly planted as gimmicks. They’re acts to the story. As for the sex involved, it’s never gratuitous, but a tool for storytelling. It’s not something to make you feel uncomfortable in the theatre, but informative and artful building blocks for character development.
“The Handmaiden” should and most likely will be studied in film schools for years to come. It’s an immaculate achievement in cinema. Not only does “The HandMaiden” deal with themes of passion, love, and revenge it brings attention to vulnerability, compassion, and hope. Very rarely do erotic thrillers display the endearing potential of the human spirit. Hope’s hard to come by, so it’s nice to see it come from an environment where it’s sparse.
EXTRA TID BITS
- “OldBoy” still raises my heart rate.
- “Body Heat” is another erotic thriller I can’t recommend enough.
- Park Chan-Wook is the best director to cover dialogue.
- Much like “Body Heat,” I watched “The Handmaiden” with a dude friend instead of a romantic partner. One day….one day…