Thursday, 2 November 2017
No.128 : The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden @ the IMDb
Sometimes Worlds Collide when you have a few movie blogs and unmapped challenges. One such event precipitated my viewing of ‘The Handmaiden’ as I checked up to see if I was still able to claim that I’d seen every film on the IMDb top 250. Alas I had only seen 242 and although some like ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘Paper Moon’ will be picked up without comment, this effort at No.246 merits some Definite Article assessment.
It’s a subtitled Korean film that runs for 140 minutes - but don’t let that put you off - there are ample things to keep you interested such as a lush period setting and an intricate yet enjoyable plot. Oh and some hardcore lesbian sex; it has that too.
The film is set in the 1930’s during Japan’s occupation of Korea. We meet some street urchin mums who are vying for a job. We learn that 'career criminal' is the local trade and one girl hooks up with local villain ‘The Count’ to enact an elaborate scam on a Japanese heiress. The Count is a career con man and plans to seduce the heiress for her cash before decanting her to the nut house. The young girl, Sook-Hee, takes on the job as handmaiden to the heiress so she can facilitate The Count’s trip into the heiress’ bed and indeed, bank account.
The film is split into three acts and the first deals with the plan and how it plays out initially. The heiress has an aged uncle who has fallen on hard times and makes his living by forging dirty books which he has the heiress read to a group of seedy noblemen in the hope that they'll buy one for the long rickshaw ride home. The language here is a bit saucy, although they use a lot of metaphor. Either that or someone’s ‘Jade Gate’ is going to need hosed down in the morning. The Uncle also has designs on the fortune so our crafty pair have to outsmart him as well as avoid the usual pitfalls of falling in love and being played themselves.
The plan goes well until there is a masterful wrong foot and then Act 2 begins. This replays many of the events we have already witnessed, but from different characters' perspectives. Things that seemed plain to see are spun in different directions and it’s unclear who is playing who and for what ends. I won’t spoil the outcome here but there were plenty of surprising turns and others not so shocking, but welcome nonetheless.
The initial sex scenes were somewhat tame but once retold the story got a lot more explicit - a bit like the Uncle’s smutty drawings. The webs of deceit were expertly spun and the film flew past as various preconceptions were blown away and replaced with something even more shocking but still plausible.
You will need to give the film your full attention so as not to miss a lot of the subtle, and not so subtle hints. It is elegantly shot with high production values - it’s only a shame that the evil old Uncle looked about 30 with a grey wig on. There is some really nasty violence and some full on lesbian sex - but I was prepared to endure this for the excellent story that emerged, that captivated and surprised in equal measure.
Overall this is a worthy addition to the IMDb Top 250 and indeed to this fine blog!
THE Tag Line : ‘The Scissor Sisters in Concert!’ 85%