02/05/2017

The Handmaiden - Novel Black Comedy

Quick Thoughts: The Handmaiden (2016)

A Korean pickpocket attempts to help a con-man deceive a rich Japanese woman into marriage.


This is a somewhat rare movie. I sat in the small, few dozen seat cinema having not read or heard anything about this film, expecting a novel-esque costume picture or maybe a complex tale of revenge - of which I've grown to know Park Chan-wook for having only seen his Vengeance Trilogy. However, what I got was, and still is, quite hard to put down in words.

First and foremost I have to say that this is an utterly hilarious film; an intricate black comedy that explores betrayal, deception, romance, sexuality, perversion, obsession, suicide and love. This is all captured masterfully with the script, an adaptation of Sarah Smith's Fingersmith (which, no, I haven't read). The genius of the script is two-fold; it is through the manner in which it captures the the structural tone of a book, but also builds this non-genre story into a psychological mystery-thriller that this script is so immense. With incredibly sharp dialogue that purposefully manages absurdity, this script is like a warm knife to the buttery over-two-and-a-half-hour run-time - and I honestly can't remember another time when minutes have flown past so easily in a cinema. Added to this, the camera work and cinematography are beautiful, constantly searching for unique ways to frame and depict scenes. Moreover, the direction is inventive with, I'm going to say the word again, genius, editing. There are so many minute details to the edit that demonstrate time and time again that there are people behind this film working hard to make this movie something special - and they certainly achieved that. Even the sound design has its stand-out moments which add a few nice graphic details to scenes involving... uhhh... something to do with scissors - though, not the tool that cuts things.

The best way I can ultimately describe The Handmaiden is then to say that it's a fun and adventurous, though not nearly as vulgar or nihilistic, version of Pasolini's Salò. However, what was my favorite element of this film, and this is the one thing that you should certainly watch it for, is the script and its structuring. As mentioned, it masterfully captures the tone of a great novel, solidifying the sense of rarity that this movie is imbued with, injecting it with such life, energy and control of pace. To keep things short and so I don't start to ramble, I'll then end with a final recommendation to see this movie - it's not worth missing.





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