The Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden (2016) movie poster

director Park Chan-wook
viewed: 03/13/2017

Elegant and beautifully staged, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an erotic drama featuring many switchbacks and twist and turns. Adapted from a novel by Welsh author Sarah Waters, Park moves the setting of the film to Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th Century.

The story itself involves an aristocratic collector of erotic books, a couple of clever thieves playing a long con, and a lonely, isolated young woman, betrothed to the book collector, the widower of her aunt.

The style Park employs here seems intently focused on Western versus Asian, Japanese versus Korean, and the house at which most of the story takes place is a vivid depiction of these characteristics. Part of the house is in the Victorian style, while another part of the house is uniquely Japanese. This plays out in interiors as well, and I think also the way that Park shoots the scenes.

Beyond the story, the plot, this seems to be a key focal point of the film. I don’t know if I’m knowledgeable enough about Japanese and Korean culture to fully extrapolate the details, but the characters are Koreans pretending to be Japanese, or trying to become Japanese. Aspirations are also toward very Western traditions and styles and even modern (for the time) psychiatric treatment.

For one viewing, that is about all I can pull from it, but it was quite interesting. I don’t think I liked it quite as much as others, though I thought it was quite good.  I’ve been a fan since Oldboy (2003) and this was a vast improvement over Stoker (2013). Quite an interesting film.

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