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The Handmaiden

May 6, 2017

The Handmaiden (2016)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Actors: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo

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Synopsis: A love triangle between a Japanese noblewoman and two Korean tricksters in occupied Korea during WW2. Told in three parts, each character is duped by the other two at one stage…

Review: The Handmaiden is essentially one long, elaborately constructed curate’s egg of an inane structural parlour game – but what skill and dash in that conceit!

There isn’t a moment of the film’s construct where Park isn’t restlessly trying to further his story – and push its tricksiness – with a showman’s sense of sound design, or a revelatory tracking shot, or a dramatic pictoral or narrative change of perspective. In a sense, that’s Park’s greatest triumph with The Handmaiden – it’s one long structural tour de force. Certainly the labyrinthine theme – both in the tripartite story that continually recontextualises what had come before, and the mise en scène that the protagonists co-exist in of rooms-within-rooms and opportunities to play peeping tom on one another – embellishes that.

What we’re eventually left with though is one long, depthless ode to structure. And even then, the film’s conceited submission to its storytelling thrills becomes one-dimensional and ever-decreasing by the midway point. The narrative about-turns grow progressively predictable and explanatory, and Park becomes too enamoured of revealing the conceits of his story and flattering his audience. At best, The Handmaiden is a sort of superior heist/genre movie, but no more than that. (May 2017)

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