The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden ★★★★½

TIFF16 Film #6

Reason for pick – Park Chan-wook - Duh!

Like vintage wine, the flavours of master filmmaker Park Chan-wook become darker, bolder, deeper, more flavourful, and definitely more intense with age.

Misdirection has always been in Park’s cinematic bag of tricks, but here it takes centre stage spinning the audience around at every turn. Just when you think you’ve found a stable purchase, the rug is pulled from under you once again. The fantastic 3 part structure, that has hints of Rashomon, are perfectly woven together resulting in your smiling, at each new iteration.

What has developed the most in Parks style is the humour. Handmaiden is funny, and funny often. From delectably dark and wry bon mots, to expertly executed physical comedy, the humor shows up when least expected, and that elevates it even further.

Park has always had an eye for the frame, but this is film is simply drop dead gorgeous. Park and long time Cinematography partner Chung Chung-hoon raise the bar even higher than their previous outing, Stoker, which already set a damn high mark. The camera is also as loving as it is bold, with the scenes of intimacy simultaneously warm and hot.

All the prodigious talent behind the scenes would come to nothing if Park didn’t have the actors to carry it through. The small band of half a dozen are pitch perfect, but the real kudos have to go to Kim Min-hee as the Japanese Lady Hideko, a widowed heiress to the family fortune, and her duplicitous handmaiden, Sook-Hee, played with fiery gusto by newcomer Kim Tai-ri. Together the two of them are like a binary star, tightly orbiting each other.

It’s hard to make these type of judgements quickly, without ample consideration, but my first impression is that The Handmaiden may be Parks best film to date, ( My heart still belongs to JSA, though ). After this, and his deftly accomplished English language Stoker, the sky's the limit for this master. I can't wait to savour what he pours next.

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