Monday, May 3, 2021

International Watch: The Handmaiden (2016)

Watched:  05/02/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Chan-wook Park

Look, this movie is impossible to discuss without spoilers - so, look out


I won't go into any great detail.  I have a feeling this movie will be well remembered by anyone who sees it.  I've not previously watched any Chan-wook Park, which is, I am aware, enough to pull my "movie guy" card, but I figured watching one of his more recent films was a good place to start.

I basically knew nothing about this movie other than:  Chan-wook Park, newer movie, some sort of romance between a handmaiden and the lady to whom she attends.  

I'm also only marginally aware of the occupation of Korea by Japan (1910 - 1945) and broad strokes of that history.  I know it's an ugly and brutal history, typical of 19th and early 20th century colonialism in its methodology.  And you don't need to know much more than that there was colonialism - but you're going to be at some disadvantage.  Add in the nuances of both Japanese and Korean culture and class structures, and... well, I'd guess us suburban WASPs in Texas are probably missing quite a bit.  

Look, I very much liked this movie.  I like that it followed the familiar pattern of the repressed lesbian storyline that's it's own little art-house niche, enough so that SNL spoofed it, and then - about 1/2 way in, a reminder that you're watching a movie by the guy who did Old Boy, so, you know.  Stuff is about to get dark.

And dark it gets!  

The notion of a Korean thief coming to assist a Korean con-artist to dupe a wealthy Japanese woman into a marriage was plenty, but, of course, the film twists back on itself at the turning point revelation.  It's a movie about a pack of liars, and in the midst of all the perversion, dishonesty, abuse and betrayal, somehow finding love!  What's not to like? 

The thing is gorgeously shot and beautifully acted - each character playing multiple layers of who that character is.  All four of the lead actors are fantastic, right up to the final scenes.  Unfortunately, I'm just not familiar with any of them as they've not participated in English-language film and I have a considerable blind spot when it comes to Korean cinema.  

Anyway, I absolutely have headspace for arty movies of forbidden romance that move at a snail's pace - but I very much have headspace for "by the way, everyone here is a con, and there's some f'd up stuff going on, so hold onto your hats".  

I don't have much to say.  The movie was well-reviewed upon its initial release in 2016/17, and now at Amazon Studios - you, too, can enjoy the film.  

I will say, I know it's been 25 years or so, but it did make me want to check out Bound again, which feels like the pulpy ancestor of this film in many ways.  But, man, this was a great one.  


RHPT said...

I was reading the book from which the movie was based when I learned that Chan-woo Park was making The Handmaiden. And I am a big fan of Chan-wooo Park so everything about this movie is in my wheelhouse.

I know you hate recommendations but if you can, check out Joint Security Area. I don't know if it's streaming anywhere - I watched it via Netflix DVD way back in the day. I would also recommend the two other films that make up his 'Revenge Trilogy' (Old Boy being the second movie in the series).

The League said...

Yeah, I've definitely thought about what else I can watch from Park in the wake of this movie, starting with Old Boy. I'll look into all this stuff! And, yeah, I don't love recommendations, mostly because I feel bad that I likely *won't* get around to a movie immediately, or will just forget. But yeah, it's good to hear "here's what to do next if you liked that" sometimes! And this is one of those times.