The Handmaiden

by Alan Rapp on November 25, 2016

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Handmaiden
  • IMDb: link

The HandmaidenPresented in three acts, director Chan-wook Park‘s erotic thriller inserts a new handmaiden (Tae-ri Kim) into the home of a Japanese heiress (Min-hee Kim) in Victorian-era Korea as part of a larger plot to steal the woman’s vast fortune. Part crime drama, part thriller, and part love story, The Handmaiden offers a tale of complicated motivations (where almost no one is exactly who they initially appear to be), betrayal, greed, sex, and love.

The first act of the film is presented from the role of the handmaiden, who is actually a plant to help steer the heiress into marrying her partner (Jung-woo Ha) to steal her money away from the lonely woman and her perverted uncle (Jin-woong Jo) who has his own plans for that wealth. However, when the handmaiden and her mistress begin falling for each other it throws a wrench into everyone’s plans.

The film’s second act offers a slightly different take on events from the perspective of the heiress, offering new motivations and insights, and setting up the film’s final act in where each member of the small cast will face the consequences of their actions.

Criticized in some circles for the extended sex scenes, the film earns it’s R-rating but the scenes also underscore the passion the pair of lost women find only in each other (which makes the film’s first big twist all the more devastating). The sequences have drawn comparisons to Blue is the Warmest Color. While these characters may not be given the screentime to develop as deep emotional bonds, the situation they find themselves in, where trust is as scares as love and danger hides behind every corner, certainly heightens their interactions. Sex plays a large role in the development of both characters, as well as the heiress’ aunt and the grotesque subjugation her uncle forced each woman into to satiate his own desires.

Although the women are each controlled by the men in their lives, The Handmaiden is fueled entirely on the relationship between the pair and their attempts to take control of their own destinies (enhanced by some impressive set design). Min-hee Kim and Tae-ri Kim work naturally together on-screen, which is no small feet given the gamut of emotions the pair will be put through over the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time. Given it’s explicit sequences, subtitles, and length, The Handmaiden may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Although those who choose to pass will miss one of the more memorable films of 2016.

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