Notable Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jeong-woo, Cho Jin-woong, Moon So-ri
Clearing this up front, Park Chan-wook is my favorite working director. That said, there are certain things in his films, without going into a long tangent before even starting this, that I dislike. So, this isn't a fanboy review, and I will try to refrain from geeking out in a biased manner. I do love his works, and he has inspired me greatly, so naturally, that will likely shine in this review. Onward to The Handmaiden, Park's newest, and one of his best.
Set in Japan, The Handmaiden (Ahgassi) weaves an intricate and twisted tale of love that blossoms from an unexpected place, between two women of two opposing classes of society, during the 1930s. Korean man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jeong-woo), living the facade of an upper class Japanese, hires pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), to infiltrate a rich family to steal an inheritance, that Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is having bestowed upon her, living the life of her own personal Handmaiden.
I won't delve too deep into the story, as it is fairly simple, but the journey you are brought on is one filled with laughter, shock, disgust, love, betrayal, heartbreak, lust, and much more. It never really juggles genres like most Korean films do. It is an erotic love story, with thriller elements, albeit they are minor. There are little splashes of horror, and they are used very effectively. The black humor presented here is very akin to the humor used in his last Korean directorial, Thirst, and I believe is even a great companion piece to said film.
Cho Jin-woong, whom I have failed to mention yet, plays Kouziki, Lady Hideko's uncle. He is a perverted, very sleazy bastard and Cho delivers the repulsive goods in spades. He is loud without ever becoming obnoxious. He isn't very cartoonish and actually has some subtle moments, but he is very terrifying and his repeated mentioning of sending Lady Hideko to 'the basement' made my skin crawl every time and for that, he must be applauded.
Lastly, addressing the sex scenes, which some found too excessive and deemed unnecessary, I found quite important and brought a believable weight to the leading ladies actions further along in the story. I thought they (the scenes) were just as detrimental as Oldboy's scene was. The extremity also seemed to fit the rushing and rapidly blossoming relationship that Sook-hee and Lady Hideko thrust themselves into. Lust depicted in a very fantastical yet realistic way.
Written by Josh Parmer