The Handmaiden: My Pleasure

Jenny Jin Lee | REVIEW

 

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Park Chan-wook returns with the Handmaiden and brings out all things taboo in Korean society

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.

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Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri maintain their sexual tension throughout the movie in splendidly subtle (and sometimes not so) ways

 

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) 

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Beneath the Korean Wave: Top five hidden treasures of the K-Culture

In spite of the massive Korean wave that has hit the world in the last few years of K-Pop madness, the real treasures that bear the cultural significance of South Korea failed to see the light. Amidst the fever for the stylish K-Drama stars and addictive K-pop music, various pieces of the Korean culture and its market attracted consumers from all over the world. While South Korea’s own fashion items, cosmetic products, local eateries have all garnered global attention, what Koreans consider the actual sources of their long lasting pride still remain buried under the popularity of the results of K-Pop marketing.

Here are the top five hidden treasures of Korea we have chosen:

  1. Indie rock bands

South Korea’s indie rock scene has boasted unique underground culture of its own, defining the hipster nightlife and neighbourhoods tucked away from the mainstream K-Pop fandom. Most of these bands are based in the artsy streets of Hongdae, akin to London’s Soho, as home to the city’s artists and art lovers that gather to relish in the hipster ambience together formed by the coffee-roast aromas and washed out colours on vintage outfits. In comparison to the mindlessly repetitive lyrics that barely make sense for even native Korean speakers as well as the auto-tuned voices that sing these incomprehensible lyrics, South Korea’s indie bands feature poetic language and experimental sounds that failed to reach the ears of global K-Pop fans due to their inconspicuous activities away from national television and the absence of big-label management companies. While the artists’ visuals admittedly are far from the more “traditional beauty” of our favourite K-Pop stars, their pure passion for music nevertheless shows off what the artists of South Korea are actually inspired by.

  1. Makgeolli (Rice Wine)

Korean barbeque and bibimbap have recently been gaining popularity among the more well-known Asian dishes such as Pad-thai or sushi, thanks to the K-drama fandom in search for the foods featured in the latest dramas and thousands of tourists to South Korea. Coupled with Korea’s very own hard liquor soju, the largest selling alcohol in the world, South Korean eateries offer the best go – to option for anyone seeking excellent alcohol-food pairing. However, the real gem of Korean drinking culture is makgeolli, the cloudy, white goodness made from rice or wheat. The fermented bubbles create a carbonated feel to the milky sweet wine for the drink to be imbibed with seafood or greasy pancakes. About 6~8% alcohol, makgeolli is traditionally served in wooden bowls, as a way to break the ice among the drinkers and lighten the mood for the night. Due to these brusque manners associated with the drink, makgeolli had long been thought of as a macho drink for “crazy old Korean men” but in the few years, its appeal has reached out to the younger generation to enjoy in its classic form as well as in different fruity or nutty flavours.

  1. Teuroteu

Recognized as the oldest form of K-Pop, teuroteu music is the all-time favourite genre for both the old and the young of South Korea. Driven from the duple rhythm of foxtrot, the genre generally features traditional seven-five syllabic stanzas and an R&B-esque vocal style, combined to give off a distinctively country sound unique to Korea. While music critics denounce the genre for its unpolished lyrics and less than sophisticated melodies, dubbing it as a low-brow class of music, teuroteu maintains the first form of what evolved to be today’s most popular components of the K-Pop wave. For this reason, teuroteu is still considered the defining frame of the epicurean pursuit inherent to the Korean culture of fun and entertainment and is thus recommended for all K-wave fans to enjoy the Korean spirit in its fullest. In fact, many K-artists have covered various teuroteu songs in hopes to target the older audiences less acquainted with the latest K-pop trends.

  1. Webtoon

Cheese in the Trap, Misaeng, Lucky Romance – these seemingly unrelated latest K-Drama hits have one thing in common: their webtoon-based contents. Webtoon, which specifically refers to the digital genre of web-comics periodically published online, is increasingly becoming one of the most popular forms of pastime for South Koreans, especially with the rise of smartphone use. In fact, the amount of material published in the webtoon format is now equal to that of offline comics with its equally diverse spectrum of contents. Web providers Naver and Daum have now begun publishing English translations for international fans in hopes of meeting the demands in the manga market that has long been dominated by Japanese comic artists. Merely regarded as a part of the online subculture for the overzealous otakus and “geeks” in the past, more mainstream webtoon contents are now available for different generations and now it has not become uncommon for any Korean to have at least one webtoon series that they follow for weekly updates.

  1. Afreeca TV

Before the age of Facebook and Twitter, social media was already popular and a surge of user-generated contents took over the Internet several years before the rise of Youtube and forums. And now, the current trend among the digital users in South Korea is Afreeca TV, a  P2P technology-based video streaming service, where any user is able to create their own show and broadcast it live to an audience that is able to give immediate feedback in a real-time discussion board displayed on screen. The platform itself ranges anywhere from TV broadcasts, live video game broadcasts, artist performances and personal daily-life video blogs and now even renowned celebrities use the channel to directly interact with their fans and therefore is definitely worth checking out.