The Handmaiden

November 12, 2016 at 9:56 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

About halfway through my viewing of this film, I heard loudly whispered behind me, “this movie is a lot weirder than I thought it would be.” Indeed. If you are unfamiliar with the work of Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy,” “Lady Vengence,” “Thirst”) or the novel upon which the film is based (“Fingersmith”), you could be forgiven for being utterly baffled. The story is a convoluted one, with multiple narrators telling their version of the same events. This is very clear in the novel but was far less so in the film. When Part 2 started, not everyone understood that we were seeing the same story, now narrated by another woman. Had the film been in English, with actors American’s knew, the audience might have recognized that the two voice-overs were from different women. In addition, the story itself is complex with twists and turns and strange asides that can be hard to follow, especially when subtitled. However, I had read the book (and read the Wikipedia entry on it just yesterday to remind myself), which helped immensely in following along. The story is fun and clever and full of tension and surprises. Park is known for his beautiful visuals and this film does not disappoint. Every single scene was just breathtaking. Some of the scenery was almost distractingly beautiful and the costumes were equally gorgeous. Park knows how to frame a scene and I was continually taken by the imagery on screen. In one scene, a blood spot on a white sheet is contrasted against a white kimono covered in red flowers; genius details like that really make me happy. The film also had a quirky and delightful sense of humor, sorely missing from the book. Park’s telling of this story was, at times, playful. At other times, it was not. Anyone familiar with his work, knows that Park has a penchant for revenge porn and a little good old fashioned porn, as well. While the book definitely has sexual content, it was made much more explicit in the film. Parts 1 & 2 match the book’s very closely but Part 3 changes quite dramatically. This is largely an improvement (the book becomes a melodrama in the last section, so full of silly twists as to be ridiculous). Park’s version is much tighter and avoids the worst of the book’s endings. However, he also inserted a revenge torture scene and a lot of graphic lesbian sex. It was all gratuitous and did nothing to drive the plot. I could have done without the titillation. That lovely, twisting story and all of those beautiful images were more than enough for me.

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