For Reel

The Handmaiden (2016)
February 28, 2017, 3:50 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Park Chan-wook
4.5 Stars
the-handmaidenPark Chan-wook’s successes as a genre filmmaker tend to rely entirely on his skills as a storyteller—that is, his films are puzzle boxes that include characters with obscured motivations whose actions only make sense in hindsight. Similarly, as a visual stylist, Chan-wook not only blocks his scenes with precision, but doesn’t settle until he’s evoking several conflicting visceral responses—in The Handmaiden, one of the film’s most erotic scenes involves a woman sanding down another’s teeth. If there is nothing intrinsically horrific about the scene in context, it demonstrates the filmmaker at his most kinky—that is, the grinding of bone is just as likely to evoke a response from a viewer as two women at the height of their sexual tension engaged in a perverted sort of foreplay. The Handmaiden feels like Chan-wook’s most fully realized outing until it devolves into a routine splattershow in the climax, but even that is tolerable if one appreciates that sensuality in Chan-wook films must, by their nature, become exploited to perverted, horrific extremes (although a late appearance by a cephalopod could have substituted by itself for all of the horrors that surround it). That the film is so concerned with storytelling on both a screenwriting level (it is structured so that viewers see the same scene from different perspectives) and on a textual level (erotica is a key element in the narrative) shows Chan-wook at his most self-aware, and importantly it creates an appreciation for the fact that Chan-wook has become a master of withholding—something which, by the nature of his films, is a marvel.

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