It’s that time of year when everyone is knee-deep in essays and revision, so I admittedly didn’t have time to research The Handmaiden before seeing it. I did watch the trailer, but to be honest that left me just as clueless.
All I had to base my expectations of the film on was having seen another of Park Chan-wook’s films, Oldboy. I hoped his most recent film would live up to the standards he set in Oldboy. Not only did it live up to them, it exceeded them by miles.
Surprisingly adapted from Sarah Water’s British period novel, Fingersmith, what set itself up initially as slightly comical but sad romance, became a twist-filled psychological thriller and the best film I’ve seen this year. It manages to take heartfelt and heartless, romantic and brutal moments, placing them all side by side without a single second feeling out of place.
"It manages to take heartfelt and brutal moments, placing them all side by side without feeling out of place"
I never really thought something that sounded as bland as an assortment of grand Victorian-style wallpapers could bring me such joy, but the film’s Victorian-esque aesthetic paired with carefully crafted cinematography and beautiful shots of Korea make it a visual masterpiece as well as a brilliant narrative.
The film managed to do what many fail, simultaneously expose the ugly and perverse male gaze whilst also presenting female sexuality in a frank but beautiful way, and as something that definitely does not exist for the satisfaction of men. The female lead characters Sook-hee and Lady Hideko never let men shut them down or get the better of them, showing female solidarity at its best.
I knew nothing about this film before seeing it, and my biggest piece of advice to you would be to read no more on it. Whatever you do, do not get it spoiled for you. Go and see it as soon as possible, with no idea what you’re in store for or what is going to happen. I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
More like this: Boogie Nights (1997)