Jenny Jin Lee | REVIEW
Based on the UK’s best-selling thriller novel Fingersmith, Park Chan-wook’s the Handmaiden unfolds the erotic fate of a mistress and her maid intertwined in their machinations to destroy each other. Before its commercial release, the movie received much media coverage for its homoerotic theme as well as its positive reception at Cannes 2016 – understandable, given the difficulty for a South Korean film to achieve either. However, upon seeing the film, it becomes evident that the most noteworthy factor of the movie had been thoroughly unmentioned in the marketing hype. The Handmaiden is a story not of love, or lust but pleasure.
Throughout the film, sexes and sexualities are juxtaposed in the way the characters approach their object of pleasure. Men are misogynistic and defiled, yet completely passive and even reserved in their sexual practice. They dress up in expensive suits and gather to listen to the heroine’s narration of erotic tales to relieve themselves of their pornographic fantasies. In contrast, women are unafraid to expose and feel up their bodies in active pursuit of pleasure, and eventually of freedom from repression.
Min-hee Kim, regardless of her recent scandalous affair with a married man, dances through her mistress character that must exhibit dual personality, homosexuality, and repression – all in a foreign language (Japanese). Kim is never out of the spotlight amidst the aesthetic splendor of Park’s mise-en-scene and when coupled with the debuting actress Kim Tae-ri’s convincing performance as the mistress, the film tastefully unfolds the sexual fairy tale to the eye level of the guilty audience. While LGBT rights in South Korea are still yet to be fully recognized either legally or socially with just one (one!) person officially come out as gay in the entire Korean industry, the Handmaiden successfully deals with the subject of homosexuality in its attempt not only to drive the narrative forward but also the entire Korean film industry.
Here is the international trailer for The Handmaiden (2016)