To be honest I have seen only film of Park chan wook and that is the masterpiece, Oldboy. This movie is set in a different era and beautifully captured. Full of sexuality and mystery, The Handmaiden is how a erotic thriller should be made. The Hindi film industry, especially should take notes. So let’s go into details.
STORY – The story is of a family of con-men and forgers who are planning to con a very wealthy family for a huge sum of money. Lady Hideko, who is the heir to all the wealth is set to marry her uncle, because, well he is the only person she knows and he is greedy. This con-man poses as a Count in an attempt to woo her, make her fall in love and then elope. Fearing that he can’t do it alone, he brings in one of his accomplices to be her handmaiden so that she could keep coaxing Hideko to fall in love with the Count. An unexpected turn of events, sets the plans of each of the characters onto a different trajectory. I don’t want to blurt out the plot because that will just ruin the twist. The characters are well built and I as an audience had a love-hate relationship with each of them because none of them were exactly white and black. Everyone had shades of grey, and it was fun to watch how these characters used their wit to outsmart each other. Sook-hee and Hideko, both come for dark pasts but still, it wasn’t easy to root for them. The uncle, Kouzuki was just plain evil. I mean he hits a kid with metal balls. Come on.
DIRECTION – Park chan wook took a huge risk to keep an erotic thriller at a run-time of over 2 hours. It was risky, but it paid off. He took his time building the characters, not rushing in any one the three chapters, so that when the final twist came, you wouldn’t feel like it was a cop-out of some sort. Even though the ending can be expected after the first twist, but the length of the movie that is left after the first twist did produce a sense of doubt. The best performance is of course by the title character, Sook-hee. She portrays the funny, innocent yet deceiving person that she is. I felt that the actress for Hideko, was a bit bland. I would have loved to see her portray some more expressions when the camera was pointed just at her. As I said, Jin Woong-jo who played Kouzuki didn’t have much space to do anything other than playing the usual tropes of a villain. I absolutely loved the arc of Count Fujiwara. The thing that I loved most, was the little shots in between which showed a sudden burst of emotion. Almost like a darker version of Edgar Wright’s method of shooting such scenes.
CINEMATOGRAPHY – The whole movie felt like a beautiful painting. The colours were rich. Not a single scene had a wrong choice of colour. Many movies show very brutal scenes under sunlight and that kind of decreases the intensity. Here the feel was captured so beautifully. Even when the same scene was shown at different points of the movie, you could notice the difference. When the same story was being shown from the POV of different characters, the exact same scene had a different feel. It was a delight for the eyes. Chung-hoo Chung struck a beautiful balance between outdoor and indoor shots. It was very important because one wrong palette and the whole mystery would have vanished.
FINAL VERDICT – Well, to be honest I was expecting a bizarre ending like Oldboy but I wasn’t disappointed because what I saw was enthralling. Even though the two twists, for me, felt not so realistic but it is certainly worth a watch. I advise you to not go expecting loads of sex because even though there is a lot of it, the setting of those scenes can make you feel really uncomfortable.