The Handmaiden is based on the novel "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters The novel is set in London during the 19th century, but the film is set in Korea in the 1930s, under Japanese colonial rule. The pickpocket Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) is hired by the Japanese heiress Lady Hideko to be her personal servant. Hideko is supported by her Uncle Kouzuki and the gold-digger "Count Fujiwara", who is indeed son of peasants, wants to marry her to steal her inheritance. Sook-Hee is a small-time thief of the ring of the conman "Count Fujiwara" and is sent to help him in the confidence game. But soon Hideko and Sook-Hee get close to each other and become lovers.
I saw this movie while knowing very little about it, all I knew is that there is a conspiracy against the heiress and the girl who is pretending to be her maid falls in love with her. The twist before part 2 (the film is divided into 3 parts) really took me off guard which is very rare, but I knew the movie was fantastic long before then.
Unlike every single release form 2016 this film didn't have elements that annoyed me or stood out in a negative way. Not a single thing in this movie was something I would change and that is the truth for all of my recent winners - I will not give a win to the movie that doesn't feel close to perfect. The Witch had pacing issues. The Neon Demon had the scenes where it was just Refn being weird for the sake of weird. The Nice Guys tried the admirable and decided it wanted to be a bit more than a comedy but it didn't accomplish this completely. Jackie had those tour of the White House scenes where even though Portman's enunciation was intentional it didn't make it any less grating. Arrival was just terrible.
This one was perfect.
The Handmaiden totally reinvents itself with the plot twist and tells us a much different story for the remainder of the picture. And then the twists just come and come and they all shape such a wonderfully written tale. And it's all quite kinky too.
I see probably one foreign movie per year average so I don't know any of those actors. Apparently Tae-ri Kim is practically a newcomer and she did a wonderful job balancing innocence and willful ignorance of what a horrible plan is in store for Hideko. Min-hee Kim is even better balancing a different kind of innocence, the sheltered, shy kind with a devilish side which reminded me of Ok-bin Kim performance in Thirst (neither come close to that but to be fair that is one of my all time favorite female performances)
Tae-ri Kim was a fan of Min-hee Kim's
work before they met. She did not know that Min-hee would be playing
Hideko during the audition. Apparently it was only in a meeting with Park after
being chosen, that Park asked who her favorite actor was. Tae-ri
answered Min-hee and Park was very delighted. Tae-ri and Min-hee
gradually built up their friendship and trust since 2014 during the
preparation stage. During Tae-ri's Best New Actress acceptance speech at
Buil Film Festival 2016, she dedicated the award to Min-hee whom she
''fell in love with at first sight''.
That fondness definitely shows in the movie as the two actresses have truly wonderful chemistry together - it's the sweet but also very passionate kind of chemistry and you can sense the attraction between them in every single scene they share.
It's just such a vast divide when you compare the quality of pretty much every single thing here with what passes for 'best' of the year in Oscar season. So-ri Moon as the aunt did more with a single smile than most of supporting actresses in those films. I do not know where Park finds all those incredible actresses but they are all always so fantastic in his films.
Park has always made very sensual movies - Stoker and especially Thirst are some of the hottest movies ever made. What's incredible is that this sensuality isn't undermined by quite a bit of gore that happens in his films. When you are like me and mostly watch American movies you forget what damn prudes American filmmakers are. This is why every single sex scene in recent American films is a joke - they are awfully short just not to piss off MPAA and the actresses always have a bra on. What Park does is that not only he shows how actual sex looks but he lingers on. He holds the camera on those who are making love, to the point you are actually uncomfortable because being used to what is in other films the scene should have cut away long time ago. Also it's all so beautifully shot, it's as if the bodies actually become one. The sex scenes in the movie are incredibly explicit but not once do they feel vulgar or cheap.
Park could also school other filmmakers on how those scenes should be made. All the crew members were asked to leave the set and only a female staff
holding the boom microphone was present. The scenes were filmed with a
remote controlled camera.Tae-ri Kim said she felt slightly insecure with performing the simulated lesbian sex scenes, but Min-hee Kim reassured and energized her.
The entire film is splendidly shot and has a gorgeous score, the costumes are beautiful to look at and most of the frames in the movie could be a painting - the composition, the colors, they are just unforgettable. I'd recommend this to everyone - it's very accessible for a western viewer and comparing to other 2016 movies I've seen it really stands out as something truly magical and captivating.
Ah-ga-ssi (2016, 144 min)
Plot: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Seo-kyeong Jeong
Stars: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo