Hey, hey, time to get me cultured by watching a foreign film… er… that looks worth watching.
Maybe I just have a simple brain that only comprehends so much subtlety, but I really had no idea what this movie was about based on the trailer. I gathered it was a kind of lesbian relationship between a poor and rich girl. But I hadn’t the slightest idea about anything else.
There isn’t a whole lot for me talk about, considering that the movie is made by foreign film-makers and actors that I am not familiar with, so… this movie looked decent. Wasn’t crazy hyped or anything, but it looked like it would be worth the trip from Calabasas to L.A. This is my honest opinion of THE HANDMAIDEN.
Set in backdrop of Korea, circa the 1930s. The story follows a young lowly Korean pickpocket named Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri). She is under the employ of Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) and he has a plan set in motion that he needs help with. The wealthy young Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) has had a troubled youth and the Count is under the impression that if he can make her fall in love with him, he’d inherit her money and could lock her away in an asylum and split the money with Sook-Hee. However, he wants someone on the inside to sway her feelings for him: a personal handmaiden for Hideko, which is where Sook-Hee will come in. Successfully earning the job as the handmaiden, Sook-Hee soon learns that Hideko is actually very beautiful and slow develops feelings for the heiress and her role in conning her becomes more difficult.
I hate to make this comparison, as both movies are completely different, but this is probably one of the most powerful romance films I’ve seen since BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013), maybe even more enjoyable. And before anyone thinks I’m a pervert, no, I’m not talking about the lesbian scenes.
But since I brought it up, might as well get it out of the way. Yes, there are a few lesbian scenes between the main characters and one of them gets pretty graphic. But I don’t want this paragraph to make it out to be softcore pornography, these scenes serve a real purpose to the overall story that most movies overlook. When I see a movie and I see gratuitous tits, ninety percent of the time, it bothers me. Look, I’m a flaming heterosexual. As such, a bare naked woman is appealing… in porn. When I want to be sexually aroused, I’ll go online and take my pick of the litter. But when I drive down to a theatre that takes me thirty minutes to an hour to get there (depending on traffic), I’m paying for a story. I’m sitting in these chairs with the intention of seeing characters have problems and triumph over them, leaving me with a new perspective on the movie’s subject matter, or at the very least, an impression of how great film-making is accomplished. When movies throw in random tits with no reason other than getting a pointless R-rating, then I lose respect for the film. This movie knows how to use sex.
Sook-Hee thinks that Hideko is beautiful, and as she gets to know her, starts to fall in love with her. As she gets deeper into the con, she starts getting increasingly jealous of and frustrated toward the Count for the way he advances on and touches Hideko, while also feeling increased guilt for conning her, due to Hideko’s innocence and constant advice-seeking. Hideko clearly doesn’t love the Count, doesn’t even like him, but due to their mutual wealth and social status, their pairing makes resistance not just difficult, but impossible. And you can tell that Hideko is slowly falling for Sook-Hee as well, making the situation even more dramatic. So while there is a lot of comedy, Sook-Hee insulting the size of the Count’s penis size and what have you, there is some legit heart-break for both of their situations. So when they do have sex for the first time in secret, it doesn’t even really start off as an affair, but rather Hideko in desperate need to know how to please someone, considering she’s never had sex before in her life, so she turns to the only person she truly trusts: Sook-Hee. And Sook-Hee, clearly taking advantage of the situation, both end up giving in to passion, but never fully expressing it. So despite my man-brain enjoying the sight of two women having sex, the artist in me respects how this scene was handled, how it was built up, and there’s an emotional gratification that outweighs any immature thoughts I might have.
There’s plenty more to talk about, but honestly, this movie needs to be seen. Contrary to the movie’s dark and serious posters and trailers, this film is actually pretty damn funny. There is a ton of comedy ranging from raunchy to dark, but all of it hits bulls-eyes. The acting is phenomenal, and the story is incredibly well-crafted that will leave you guessing. Bare in mind that the movie is about two and a half hours, so if you’re seeing this in theatres and counting previews, it’ll run you about three hours. So get comfy… or if you’re me, loaded on alcohol. But I’m not kidding, folks, this is one of my favorite movies of the year. If you can find it, I highly recommend it. It’s worth it.
My honest rating for THE HANDMAIDEN: 5/5