The best way to describe “The Handmaiden,” is to simply say that is a film that never stops surprising the viewer.
“The Handmaiden,” is based on a novel by Sarah Waters, which takes place in Victorian England. Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park adapted the story to take place in 1930’s Korea. The movie is about a Japanese lady (Min-hee Kim) living in Korea with her Uncle (Jin-woong Jo). A man disguising himself as Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), places a handmaiden (Kim Tae-ri) within her household to help persuade the wealthy young lady to marry him – all in a scheme to steal her great fortune from her.
There are many plot twists and surprises along the way, including very explicit sex scenes.
Filmmaker Chan-wook Park is known for stories that lean to the dark side, and “The Handmaiden,” is not an exception. Yet, this film has a lot of fun and laughter along the way as well and it is a story that kept me captivated from the first moment until the very end. And this is very rare and unique ability among so many poor quality films of today.
The ladies of the screen Min-hee Kim and Jin-woong Jo are captivating. Most of the film is about these two women and they do not disappoint.
The creation of a 1930’s mansion, built half in Japanese style and half in English style within a thick forest in Korea was done adroitly by the arts departments: production design by Seong-hie Ryu and visual effects by Jeon-hyeong Lee. Providing the beautiful costumes was costume designer Sang-gyeong Jo and the exquisite makeup and hair-design was Jong-hee Song.
Helping to set just the right mood, scene to scene was the magnificent music by Yeong-wook Jo and the overall lighting and beautiful cinematography belongs to director of photography Chung-hoon Chung.
Yes, “The Handmaiden,” is one of the best films of the year. But, don’t expect it to be contending for Oscar glory. The film is not on the list recently released from the Academy and I can say the one major flaw of the film is what will keep this film from raking in the awards it could have so easily have won. The film has too many sex scenes, so many that it verges on pornography at times. There is a reason for this, which is clear when watching the film, but I think that if Chan-wook Park held back and produced a film that would be considered to be a standard “R” rated film in the United States, “The Handmaiden,” would be up for an Oscar.
If you don’t mind something a bit naughty, I highly vouch for this film. But obviously, this is not a film to take grandma to.
“The Handmaiden” is not rated and has a run-time of 144 minutes and 167 minutes in its extended version.