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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 11.30.16] thriller mystery

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Park Chan-Wook, the provocative Korean director of Old Boy and Stoker, is back with another sexually charged, psychological thriller and it's easily his most assured cinematic achievement to date.

Unlike Old Boy, which is unrelentingly bleak and cynical, The Handmaiden's twisting tale brims with humanity and humor, something I wasn't expecting but was completely tickled by.

The film is a loose adaptation of Sarah Waters' 2002 novel "Fingersmith", which is a romantic con-artist caper set in Victorian England. In it, a con to turn a wealthy woman's affections towards a nefarious duke is flipped on its head numerous times which takes the reader on a page-turning journey of doubt and deception.

While The Handmaiden retains the basic plot points of "Fingersmith", Park Chan-Wook layers in a bold sexual angle which leads to a deeper exploration of female subjugation, escape and empowerment.

For the sake of argument, it's worth stating that for a film told so deeply from the female POV, its scenes of graphic lesbian sex are decidedly voyeuristic and, some might say, gratuitous.

Do I say that? No, I think I get what's going on here and I understand that, just like in real life, there are complex and often contradicting feelings and relationships regarding sexuality. I leave it to each viewer to decide what the filmmakers were ultimately intending. One thing is for sure, however - you'll never hear bells the same again.

At nearly three hours, The Handmaiden is another example of Korean auteurs working on a grand scale. If you are looking for another Old Boy you may be left wanting, but if you are just looking for a well made slice of subversion, you will be greatly rewarded.

The Handmaiden is out now in theatres an on digital.

Recommended Release: The Handmaiden

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MichaelRAllen (3 years ago) Reply

3 hours? Yowzers. That reminds of another long Korean film - The Wailing. It was 2 hours and fourty minutes.

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