[Movie Review] The Handmaiden (2016)

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South Korea | Thriller, Romance, Drama | 18+ | Directed by: Park Chan-wook | Written by: Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-kyung | Based on story by: Sarah Waters | Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong | Korean | Runtime: 145 mins


‘The Handmaiden’, a twisted romantic revenge con artistry story, is another Park Chan-wook’s (the one behind the menacing original ‘Oldboy’) masterpiece creation. The story takes place in the 1930s Korean landscape, when Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) was hired by Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) to infiltrate the personal life of a Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) in hope that Sookee could persuade Hideko into marrying Fujiwara thus taking her away from her filthy uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), and gain advantage over all of Hideko’s fortunes. The plan takes a huge turn when Sookee and Hideko unexpectedly develop genuine feeling for each other. This review would like to make a huge statement by saying that ‘The Handmaiden’ is arguably one of the best films ever created in the entire filmmaking history.

Taking inspiration from a Dickensian novel titled ‘Fingersmith’, written by Sarah Waters, Park Chan-wook manages to adapt it into an easternized thrilling story while pushing all the boundaries beyond the limit. Just as he went extremely violent with ‘Oldboy’, Park does not hold back at all in exploiting the eroticity and complexity of ‘The Handmaiden’. Revelation after revelation were delicately presented as if you are watching a three Michelin star chef cooking an exclusive three course meal right in front of your eyes, leaving you hungry for what comes next with the blatantly erotic scenes serve as the additional fuel to keep that ‘hunger’ intact. You just can’t predict how the story will unfolds just by seeing the big picture, since the ideas and hints were cleverly placed in each scene. Shortly described, the subtlety of ‘The Handmaiden’ lies hidden within the extremities that it shown.

The production setting value of this film is unquestionably high as you will realize that for most of the duration, it only revolves around this one antique mansion area, brilliantly built right to the details. While the duration seems pretty long on paper, clocking at 145 minutes, it feels just right as they use the minutes to balancedly separated the first, second, and third act of the movie. The editing and grading were well-done, enough to keep you stay in the edge of your seat. But, if there is one biggest factor that boost the development of the story, it’s the acting. Them characters could easily convince you in what they were doing then quickly make you question the motive behind their actions right after, all without having to spit any overly dramatic dialogues. In the end, words are not enough to capture the brilliance of this movie as you must see it with your own eyes to realize the magic that Park Chan-wook brings with ‘The Handmaiden’.


Review written by: Dysan Aufar

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