Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Handmaiden

By Sati. Tuesday, January 31, 2017 , , , , , , , ,
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

21 comments:

  1. Yay, my wish was granted! You and Brit have got me so hyped for this movie! If it's a perfect score from you I know it's worth a watch. It's not out till April over here :(

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    1. Do see it in the cinema, it's totally worth it!

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  2. I'm so glad you liked this!It's definitely one of my favs, and I'm glad my theater here got it. I wasn't expecting those twists either. Actually, while watching I was kind of thinking to myself that the NC17 rating was really unfair until I got to the end of the 2nd, then 3rd act. Then I was like "ah, okay. That's why." lol

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    1. Oh man I thought that was it with the sex scene in part 1 but then when part 2 came I was like O_o :P

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  3. I keep reading more and more great things about this one. It's not coming close to me until, like, March...but I'm stoked! Great review.

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    1. You should definitely see it on the big screen, it's such a gorgeous movie

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  4. Truly beautiful movie... and the picture of the 2 women... delivrance after all these deceptions...

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    1. I really loved the story. The romance worked so well not just because of the chemistry but because these two characters completed each other so profoundly

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  5. I so want to fucking see this since I first heard about it in 2015. It's Chan-wook Park. He puts my ass in the seat!!!!

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    1. I think this is his best movie, closely followed by Oldboy and Thirst

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  6. Excellent review sati! Couldn't have said it better myself... I need to write about this one cos I really wanna knock up a best of 2016 list! :P

    If you were to make such a list, would this one be up the top? Did you like it more than The Witch?

    I agree with you totally that Park could school other directors on how to film this sort of material right. You're also spot on in that American film is... well, neutered really. That's why I'm always looking for more foreign films like this one. Its long but soooo worth it. Every frame does feel like a painting too, you're right. That aspect of it reminded me a lot of Tarkovsky, which is a pretty big compliment I think!

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    1. Thank you! Oh yeah it would be number 1. The Witch is still somewhere in top 10!

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    2. wow, number 1 eh! I think I'll have to rewatch it

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  7. Crap, I had this screener and had to return it to my friend before watching it. After reading your review, that was a foolish decision of mine to have skipped this one >.<

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    1. Oh man :/ Hope you get to see it anyways soon!

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  8. Love this review, Tink. I'm even more pumped than that pervy text you sent me regarding it (and I was pretty stoked then!).

    The runtime seems arduous, so I'd love to see this one in a theater...but I doubt that'll ever happen.

    And those stills you included? Whoa.

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    1. Those stills are actually really tame comparing to what's in the movie :)

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  9. Wow this looks VERY provocative. Interesting that many East Asian directors do such bold, sex-drenched movies, ahah. I knew from your previous RF that you'd give this one a very high rating.

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    1. Yeah Americans look like major prudes here, it's so funny how in 80s and 90s the films were far more sensual than the trash they make nowadays

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  10. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the recommendation! I usually like Park Chan-wook's work, every frame is handled so well visually.
    I haven't seen The Handmaiden yet. I'm intrigued that the story has twists and turns.

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  11. I loved Fingersmith (both the novel and the movie), and this one intrigues me. I agree with you about the sensual quality of Park's films. Terrific review!

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