"...please don't lie to me. Understand?"
The resulting discord and harmony found by fusing Asian and Western narratives questions the strain for female sexual and political empowerment across the world.
Based on British author Sarah Waters’ original novel Fingersmith, Park Chan-Wook's interpretation, The Handmaiden, set the stakes high before its release in 2016.
Set in an irresistibly picturesque 1930's Japanese-English mansion in sprawling Korean countryside, a Japanese heiress lives under the thumb of her overbearing Uncle. We are given a paternal, nurturing surface-impression of their relationship, however, the story reveals a myriad of mutual greed and insecurity, both financially and sexually. A parallel plot develops: a cunning, young female pickpocket is recruited by a Korean farmer to encourage the heiress to fall in love with him by posing as her loyal Handmaiden. A complex three-way relationship forms as characters exchange sex and the promise of wealth in an interesting display of the value of sexual power.
The clash between the conflict of four people's desire is carefully unravelled, providing three alternative outcomes to the story, each being shattered by an explosive twist that seals an entirely different fate for the characters. The sense of injustice and powerlessness of the audience is the true masterpiece of the movie. Park Chan-Wook masterfully teases one's emotions and morals; prepare to be brought to the brink of despair, before being consoled gently with an alternative resolution.
The production of the movie can only be described as exquisite. The film singlehandedly highlights the best of Asian and Western beauty and culture, through setting, characterisation and cinematography. The crude, very physical fusion of Western and Eastern design in the gothic exterior and interior of the mansion is not only historically accurate, but gives a sense of cultural intrigue and alienation to any audience. The dramatic colour choices embody the palette of 1930's Asia and create an elevated sense of drama. Silhouettes behind big Japanese Screens, and well-thought out lighting establishes the mystery and threat of the motives of the characters.
Ultimately, this provocative high-profile Korean movie portrays the significance of betrayal, tradition and the strength of non-heteronormative relationships, whilst bravely pioneering into territory that is highly relevant yet insufficiently explored in Western Cinema. I'd certainly recommend watching it- it's the most satisfying film I've seen in a long time!
Please note that the movie is highly provocative, controversial and graphic. Read advisory labels before viewing!