Deception is common in film. It’s always been something that could drive a story while easily maintaining its ability to stay relevant and consistent. If done correctly, deception can fit any genre and any category that you can think of. That’s why movies such as The Handmaiden are appealing to many around the world. There’s the promise of not only deception, but also the possibilities of what happens before, during and after the deception takes place.
Based on Fingersmith, a 2002 British novel from author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden‘s story of deception centers around a young Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) living in a secluded estate, and a young Korean woman (Kim Tae-ri) who has been brought on as her hired help. That doesn’t seem too unusual under the circumstances, but the young handmaiden isn’t really there to do the work she was brought on to do. She’s actually there on behalf of a conman (Ha Jung-woo) with the hopes of defrauding the isolated woman out of her large inheritance.
For many people, the extended love-making scene in this picture will certainly elevate its status. It’s something that’s longer than audiences are used to seeing in non-pornographic film. It’s certainly graphic as well, but it manages not to be overly indulgent.
In film, sex/love scenes are usually quick and suggestive. You know there was some kind of sexual activity, but they don’t hang in there long enough to tell you what exactly went down. In The Handmaiden, there’s nothing suggestive about it. They give you enough, so you don’t really have to assume anything. With the exception of some of the lower extremities, we see everything that we would normally see in situations such as this.
As far as the actual movie is concerned, The Handmaiden is very well-directed right from the start. It’s a well crafted picture with wonderful imagery to aid in its quest to satisfy. From this standpoint, there’s nothing to complain about from what I remember. In my opinion, it’s probably the best part of the movie. That’s good in a way, but in my opinion, there could have been more done in a couple of other areas that would have likely altered that statement that I just made.
While it’s technically sound in just about every way, my only real issue has to do with the story itself. While the story works for a good while, The Handmaiden could have benefited from being more insane than it ends up being. While it teases the potential of a juicy twist, we instead end up with the expected conclusion that’s easy to figure out simply by either reading the official synopsis that’s actually spoiler free or by watching the movie and then making an assumption about what’s going to happen. If you don’t mind that or you somehow don’t see what’s coming, you might like The Handmaiden even more than I do.
This conclusion turned the movie into somewhat of a disappointment. Even though I still see The Handmaiden as being effective and pleasant, it’s not as compelling or suspenseful as it could have been had they continued down the more obscure path it originally looked like it could head in. Trying something a little less obvious could have made this into something I would have watched multiple times. It would let me go back and view it with a keen eye to see how things built up while allowing me to find anything that I may have missed. But since it chooses to go down a decisively predictable path, it takes some of what it could have been away and makes me wonder if there’s any need to even watch it again.
This leaves the movie to mostly depend on its technical skill, its fine directing and its superb visuals. As someone who appreciates these parts of any film, I have to include this as part of my overall view of The Handmaiden. However, the general audiences might not care as much about these features in some instances. So relying on that, having certain scenes linger a bit at times, and with it being a foreign language film, I doubt this makes much of an impact in America outside of critics’ circles.
Rating: No Rating
Director: Park Chan-wook
Film Length: 144 Minutes
October 21, 2016 (Limited)
October 28, 2016
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
- Score - 7/107/10