Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Handmaiden (Extended Edition) - Lilith Likes to Watch


Title: The Handmaiden (Extended Edition)
Year: 2016
Starring: Min-hee Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Cho
Director: Chan-wook Park
Synopsis: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
Why it is Notable: It's being talked about in film circles again thanks to Parasite winning Best Film in the Academy Awards this year.

"The bitter turned sour, the sour turned sweet, the sweet turned savory..."

Congratulations to Bong Joon-ho for winning the Oscars for Best International Film, Best Directing, Best Writing and Best Film! Parasite is a movie making Hollywood history. I've yet to see it.

With his wins, cinephiles are talking up his other films, particularly Memories of Murder and the English language Snowpiercer. The discourse is stretching out to recommendations for other Korean films, including Oldboy, and The Handmaiden.

Ergo.

Who's the real Lady?

The Handmaiden
 is a 2016 Korean film inspired by the novel The Fingersmith. It centers around three characters, each trying to play each other to get what they want.

Sook-Hee is a fraudster and pick-pocket hired by a charlatan calling himself  The Count to pose as a handmaiden and worm her way into the confidence of a wealthy heiress Hideko. Meanwhile The Count plans to woo the seemingly innocent Hideko, marry her, and lock her in a mad-house so he can claim her wealth for his own.

Gradually Sook-Hee and Hideko fall under each other's spell. Will Sook-Hee reveal the truth to Lady Hideko or continue the charade?

The Handmaiden is extremely difficult to talk about without giving spoilers. It's so nuanced and tangled that to say one thing can spoil another thing. So, take this review for what it is, I guess.

Reading is for nerds.

I had seen this movie in its original cut a few years back when it came out. In 2016 it seemed to be on everyone's Best Of lists, and was praised for the depiction of lesbian love and sex. I won't lie, that praise is what made me watch the movie. I'd never seen the extended cut. The director himself says he recommends the theatrical cut for first time viewers. I don't know that I agree or disagree. I feel the extended could be more impact but also more confusing.

This movie is gorgeous. There are a lot of wide shots with good use of symmetry or repeated visuals. There are a lot of use of mirrors or images within images. Many hard lines, but also a softness. Good use of colour and light.

The acting is superb. Everyone, from Sook-Hee to Hideko's lecherous uncle communicate so much through their expressions and infliction that it transcends language barriers. A tiny quirk of the brow can say so much. A moment of silence, volume, a stammer.

I think a zen garden would really pull the room together.
The one thing that keeps this movie from being a 5 out of 5 is that there are long portions of  the film where two characters are speaking to each other that just bogs the film down. It reminded me of the dinner scene in Apocalypse Now. It just feels like it goes on forever and drags the run time.

I know, lame review, sorry, I just can't discuss this movie without spoilers and I urge you all to go watch it. If you're new to Korean film, this is a good place to start. If you like lesbian love and sex, this is a great movie for that. If you want to expand your film horizons, give this a try.

Lady balls.
Best Moment: Besides the lesbian sex scene? The second lesbian sex scene.

Worst Moment: The Count talking to Hideko's uncle. Get on with it.

LILITH'S SCORE: 4.5/5

NEXT TIME: We explore some of the offerings of Girlcore.





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