Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Handmaiden Review

The Handmaiden

I saw The Handmaiden last night. Chan-nook's film still has me thinking. A great emotion when a film 
stirs. 


The story is plotted upon from Welsh novelist Sarah Water's book Fingersmith. Water's novels are wonderful in their own right with period details that will keep that book in hands until the end.Chan-nook changes points in the adaptation, the story is loosely after the novel. It is set in Thirties Korea under Japanese colonial rule. The Handmaiden is a lesbian romance set as a dark crime thriller.Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a brooding heiress locked away in a off grid estate, a Japanese castle with and English architectural wing. Her evil uncle (played by Cho Jin-woong) plans to marry her to be able to buy more books. Yes, I said, buy more books. The library collection of hard backs and illustrated manuscripts is part I love. The narrative reveals that the collection focuses on sunga, Japanese sexual and dark illustrations.

Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a scoundrel without a penny plans to defraud Lady Hideko of her fortune. Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) a Dickensian thief with a heart (perhaps cliche). The grounds are spectacular. Chan-nook shares a landscape of rock gardens, blooming cherry and groves of dark pergolas. The film kaleidoscope of greens, ultramarine blue and white are jewels. Chan-nook uses Victorian themes from Waters. Characters wear masks to be English or Japanese. Social ranks are set in stone. Underneath the uncle and his friends who attend sexual readings are depraved. There's art theft, sadism and a dungeon with a hungry octopus. To touch the books Lady wears gloves. Emotions are held back at the dining table and in tuxedo. Underneath is a thriller. 

My son, home from college for the weekend, works on an essay about Japan in the Seventh Century. We spoke about privilege, power and Buddhism in the morning. Western education fails to show how Korean art and spiritualism influenced Japan. I was happy he is reading work he was not exposed to in California High School curriculum. We convinced daughter to take a trip to Korea this summer.Park Chan-nook is one of several great filmmakers from Korea.  I encourage you to see the film in a big theater, as the visual experience is lovely.


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