[REVIEW]: The Handmaiden (2016)

Hi everyone, I’m here with another film review, this time for The Handmaiden. This was another well talked about movie that I wanted to check out for myself. I have mixed feelings about it, but overall I think it made for an interesting story.

One thing you should know before diving into The Handmaiden is that it takes a lot of time to build up. The entire first hour of the film is pretty slow and uneventful, but it is necessary in order to set up the second half. The film is also divided in terms of plot delivery. The first half shows the events from the perspective of the handmaiden Seok-Hee (Lee Tae-ri), and the second half shows Lady Hideko‘s (Kim Min-hee) perspective.

The plot was a bit convoluted and somewhat strange in terms of the events involving Lady Hideko and her sicko Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). I’m still not quite sure I gathered what was going on aside from the fact that he is undeniably a pervert with some pretty gruesome fetishes. (And here I’ll throw in a quick reminder that this movie is full of sexually explicit scenes and definitely not for children.) Essentially, her Uncle was making her engage in a series of sexually explicit readings for an audience of men, so that he could sell his collection of overpriced knock off porno books to rich folk. He had done this with her Aunt as well until she eventually committed suicide. Lady Hideko is also supposed to marry him, or at least that’s his plan (told you he was sick). Enter Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman who wants Lady Hideko for himself as well as the big bucks ($$$) that would come along with her. With the two men setting their sights on the fragile yet intelligent Lady Hideko, you can’t help but feel sorry for the bleak future she has ahead of her.

However, everything changes when Lady Hideko and her new handmaiden Seok-Hee fall in love with each other and gain strength from this bond. The two females work together to outfox the vulgar men, and the story shifts into a tale of their revenge. No longer are the women the vulnerable and helpless characters of the film, but instead they are able to reach a position of triumph. By the end of the film, you are rooting for them and you are relieved when they are able to overcome the many obstacles these filthy perverts throw their way.

The Handmaiden was beautifully shot and definitely a thoughtful film. Despite the slow build up, the shift in perspective that takes place in the second half of the film is an excellent plot twist and has you questioning everything you viewed in the first hour. I was a bit worried since lesbian narratives are often depicted very shoddily in film, but thankfully I didn’t think that was the case here. I really appreciated that the females were able to transform from powerless to autonomous due to their deep trust and appreciation for each other. It posed the idea of growth and success from their relationship rather than trying to attach negative consequences and connotations to the nature of the relationship as we so often see in homosexual narratives. I was relieved and pleased with the ending because the women were able to find deliverance from their male oppressors and contentedness with their relationship. The men also get what they deserved for their deplorable actions.

What I disliked most was the part of the plot involving the Uncle. I honestly found that whole storyline quite disturbing and not in a good way. The type of disturbing that makes you question how anyone could even come up with such an idea. Overall I think it took away from the film and I think a different more palatable storyline that still fit the confines of the narrative could have been designed and utilized instead. Another negative side to the film was the stereotypical nature of the lesbian sex scenes. It was written from a man’s perspective and that came through quite clearly while watching the film. It felt misleading and disappointing, especially because I’m always looking for authenticity in a film and this was Mulholland Drive level tragic in terms of delivery. Otherwise, the acting was phenomenal, especially the two leading ladies, who I felt did an excellent job getting into character and keeping the emotion of the moment real throughout the entirety of the film.

Rating: 7/10

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