Sunday, January 22, 2017

Video review: "The Handmaiden"

Part family drama, part class intrigue and partly a story of sexual awakening, “The Handmaiden” was one of last year’s most unexpected -- and finest -- films from foreign shores.

Directed by Korean master Chan-wook Park, it’s about a young woman who’s brought in to be the personal servant to a wealthy woman from Japan during that country’s colonial rule of Korea. Their estate an incredibly odd and insular world, where Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is actually the heiress of all the fabulous wealth, but her uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), acts as her regent and authoritarian master. A dealer in antique erotica, he forces her to recite from the incredibly smutty texts to an elite clientele.

But much is not as it seems. The uncle secretly harbors plans of marrying his niece and then having her committed to an asylum. The girl servant, Tamako (Kim Tae-ri), is actually a thief trained from childhood to steal and beguile. She’s been recruited by Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a master criminal who passes himself off as a count tutoring the heiress, to help ensure that his own courtship of Lady Hideko is not undermined by the uncle.

Then, unexpected things happen. I can’t tell you more about what they are, as the story depends upon keeping its secrets. (Park co-wrote the screenplay with Chung Seo-kyung, based on a novel set in Victorian England by Sarah Waters.) Suffice it to say that that the rich lady and the penniless con artist get caught up in a torrid affair that complicates everything.

(Note: the film is not rated, but contains enough sex/nudity and violent imagery to edge near NC-17 territory.)

With so many double-crosses and hidden intents, it’s hard to discern what emotions are real, and which machinations are ruses. “The Handmaiden” is a fascinating exploration of deceit, love and betrayal.

Alas, it appears this fine film is being given a video release without any extras at all.



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