‘The Handmaiden’ Review: Director Park Chan-wook Outdoes Himself

The Bizarre Brilliance That Is ‘The Handmaiden’ is Director Park Chan-wook At His Very Best

By the time the credits rolled on ‘The Handmaiden‘, I was confused on how it did not win the Palme d’OR at Cannes this year. A film hasn’t moved me like this in a very long time. Not only does it touch on queer stories and shock art but it’s also a stunning period piece. Cinema rarely gets something this insanely amazing.

The intricate story is one of the best parts of the film. Adapted from the novel Fingersmith, it takes that Victorian-era drama and sets it in 1930’s Korea being run by Japan. What screenwriters Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung do are blend elements of the original work with rich Asian culture.

Along with acting out a great script, the cast works amazingly well under Park Chan-wook’s direction. He brings his refined filmmaking skills to ‘The Handmaiden‘ and the cast put all of themselves into the performances. I especially love the way Park Chan-wook allowed Kim Tae-ri to shine as pick-pocket Sook-hee. From exploring her sexuality to a deep deception, there is such a layered performance from her. That’s something I love about the Park Chan-wook filmography; the female-led films are brilliant and really his strong suit.

Probably the strongest attributes about this film is the cinematography. There are some films where every frame of it feels calculated and almost like a photograph. Stanley Kubrick is known for it, and these days so is Park Chan-wook. With his long-time cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, not one second of ‘The Handmaiden‘ is wasted. Scenes linger for the perfect amount of time, the framing is on point, and everything has a surreal texture.

“Even like this, dying is a luxury.”

I’m very adamant about introducing these type of brilliant Korean thrillers to mainstream American audiences. The power and finesse shown in films like ‘The Handmaiden’ makes me appreciate cinema all over again.

The boldest move made is the queer storyline involved. The complicated story of Hideko and Sook-Hee, while as insane as it is, still feels grounded. Rarely can something this over-the-top still seem believable at times. The whole film comes off like a balancing act with scenes so perverse but also so visually striking. Even when things are too bizarre, you still can’t keep your eyes off it.

That’s how you make a lasting impression.

Final Thoughts:

The Handmaiden‘ is one of the year’s few must-see movies. There is something for everyone in this. Rarely can a film be able to successful reach both arthouse and commercial fans alike. It’s one of those films that everything comes together to create an outstanding piece. While the leadership shown from director and writer Park Chan-wook is commendable, this is obviously a team effort.

There is no doubt that this one of the best films of 2016.

Synopsis: With help from an orphaned pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri), a Korean con man (Ha Jung-woo) devises an elaborate plot to seduce and bilk a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) out of her inheritance.

Genre: Erotic Thriller
Country: Korea
Director: Park Chan-wook
StarringKim Min-heeKim Tae-riHa Jung-wooCho Jin-woong


EJ Moreno
EJ Morenohttp://Vimeo.com/EJMoreno
Who is EJ Moreno? Is he a trained physician? No. Is he a former Miss Universe contestant? Possibly. With a bachelors degree in film and a love of pop culture, he brings an alternative view to the world of pop culture journalism. Follow him on Twitter @EJKhryst and check out his film work at Vimeo.com/ejmoreno