This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Karius’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The Handmaiden is a story of a heated and daring romance, masquerading as a cold and calculated performance to gain liberation, masquerading as an elaborate plot to hoodwink extravagant wealth, masquerading as a timid exploration of the ultra rich. In short, this movie fucked me up.
Given its 2016 release, The Handmaiden appears to be the culmination of all Chan-wook's cinematic expertise. Hearkening back to Oldboy, The film excels at being a proper cinematic bait-and-switch. As the multiple chapters unfolded, I found myself lost in the narrative and world building of Chan-wook's 1930's South Korea. The masterful storytelling was neatly complimented by the unadulterated beauty of the film. Every scene is vivid and lush, and the opulent mansion setting manages to be all at once intimate and hostile. The theme of embodied trauma was harrowing, and the budding romance between Lady Hideko and Sookee was not only sensitive and erotic, but confident and aggressive.
Park Chan-wook's Handmaiden is elegant, sexy, and complex. Through the nearly three hour run-time of the extended edition, I found myself spread wide across the emotional gamut- but nonetheless thoroughly enthralled throughout. Even though I watched the extended version, I can't quite figure out what was added in addition to the original. Every scene felt both satisfying and necessary. Frankly, the film felt succinct; if it was any shorter I would have been left yearning for more. In fact, my only gripe with the film spawns from a desire for it to have been just a hair longer! The ending ever so slightly fizzled away for me.
Overall, however, this... this is cinema.