Friday, November 4, 2016

"The Handmaiden" Is A Feast For The Cinematic Eye


    After delivering his English language debut, the Hitchcockian thriller Stoker, Park Chan Wook returns to his native South Korean tongue to deliver one of the most thrilling experiences one will ever see this year.

      The Handmaiden is based on a British novel named Fingersmith by Sarah Waters about a maid named Sookee played (Kim Tae-Ri) who along with a conman named Fujiwara (Ha Jung-Woo) is secretly plotting to scheme a wealthy heiress named Hideko (Kim Min-Hee). However, things begin to get complicated once Sookee falls in love with Hideko, leading to a web of doomed love and intrigue.

      Everything about this movie is done to near PERFECTION!! The luscious costume design, the distincative production design that practically takes you from one world to the next, I'll start with the two main actresses. Kim Tae-Ri gives one of the best performances of the year as the devious maid Sookee. Sookee expresses a rather childlike naivete which she uses as a tool for deception yet when she falls in love with the beautiful Hideko, her innocent crush slowly burns into a fiery passion. Kim Min-Hee is equally as impressive as Hideko, the "ice" to Sookee's "fire." Hideko expresses a shielding fragility that only makes us as drawn to her as Sookee is. Especially as her guarded nature continuously slips through the cracks like a porcelain doll. I also want to give a shoutout to Ha Jung-Woo as the sleazy businessman Count Fujiwara. Despite playing a scum of a human being, Ha always has a magnetic presence throughout. Whether he's acting as dark comic relief or displaying his deceptively sensual charm, he finds a way to command each scene he's in.

      The cinematography by Chung Chung-Hoon is also something to behold. Throughout practically each scene, the camera is constantly zooming in and out while keeping still at times in order to keep your eyes glued to the screen and it really works. It adds to the compulsive energy that helps keep the film alive along with its frenetic and rather deceptive editing by Kim Jae-Bum and Kim Sang-Bum. Because of how the film will sometimes cut to a flashback or cause a shift in tone when transitioning to a new scene, you never know what direction the film is going to go in as it progresses and to me, that's fascinating. How you never know what's going to happen next. I didn't even know how it was going to end.

      Speaking of direction, Park Chan-Wook is the conductor that helps give the picture its pulsating notes. He even manages to pay a slight homage to filmmakers like Scorsese with the film's fast-paced editing and use of exposition and Hitchcock with its mysterious plot and mischievous score.

        Now I must give a heads up that there is some graphic sex that might throw some viewers off and might even rival Blue Is The Warmest Color. But while the film may be sexual in tone, there are only a handful of scenes with sex content. So even if watching sex on screen does make you uncomfortable, I would still recommend seeing it.

         Overall, The Handmaiden is one of the best film watching experiences I've seen all year that shows just how alive moviemaking can be. It's got intrigue, romance, sex, drama, and even comedy. It's both an energetic and pulsating yet cinephilic experience.

Grade: A+