| A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
In honour of the crazy amount of traffic from Asia this past month on Shoton35.com, this entire week I will be reviewing new Asian movies that are getting a lot of buzz around the continent. When going into a movie by one of your favorite directors, it is easy to set high expectations. Rarely does the film fully meet those expectations, but when it does it is something special. Such is the case with Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (Ahgassi). He has crafted an intricately woven tale of love and betrayal that highlights everything he can do so well from heightened sexual tension to gorgeous imagery.
What is immediately apparent from the start of the film is how well Park Chan-wook’s aesthetic fits into the time period. His eye for gorgeous shots and camera angles makes the house in the film look like a work of art. The grounds around the house are also highlighted so well. Wide shots and lingering camera movements let you appreciate every little detail on screen and marvel at the beauty of it all. The score also fits in perfectly with the time period. It is never bombastic and always subtle, and perfectly captures the mood and feeling of each scene. Whether an intimate moment between the two women or a heated exchange between characters it’s hard to realize how great the score is because of how organic it feels.
The performances are perfect in sucking you into this world of erotica, selfishness, and trickery. Both female leads were fantastic. Min-hee Kim and Kim Tae-ri are amazing with sharing their sexual tension with the audience watching. It’s films like these that are the most memorable. Making you feel how ther characters are feeling. Jung-woo Ha and Jin- woong Jo were great as these sexually and financially repressed men who do the most screwed up things to feel the pleasure they so desire. Nothing wrong with the cast at all.
But as always with a Park Chan-Wook film, the real star is the director himself. The way in which this story is crafted is nothing short of engrossing. The outrageous, depraved, sexy, fascinating plot is crafted through multiple perspectives, dashing across back and forth in time, to masterfully reveal key plot points across a never less than spellbinding two hour run time. His framing in this movie is fantastic once again. Through the use of mirrors and reflections, Park Chan-wook suggests the double-sided nature of the characters. Also, he often obstructs part of the frame with an object and hides characters behind walls or glass to suggest we may not really see everything that is going on before us. This aspect of the film in particular I feel will only get better with subsequent viewing when you can understand all of characters motivations and desires.
One of the film’s strengths is its ability to seamlessly incorporate comedic elements into what could have been quite a serious movie. In a movie that involves themes such as suicide and fraud, it is hard to believe how many times it made the audience laugh out loud. Although the tone does get darker at times, the lighter moments make it just a really fun movie as well. But it’s weakness lies during the last act of the film, where it does get unusually and unnecessary violent. There is a torture scene that seems out of place with the rest of the film. Though effective in its own right and thoroughly thrilling, it didn’t sit right with me due to how subtle the rest of the film had been.
This is a film that really stays with you and will take multiple viewing to really appreciate the complex story. The first film I have seen in a long time where I continued to think about it throughout the day and had multiple conversations about all aspects of the film. With The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook has crafted a film that fully displays the craft and technical prowess he can show and it includes a story that that only gets better the more you think about it.