Review of The Handmaiden (2016)

Moving picture, 145 minutes

Seen in 2019.

I saw the standard 145-minute version, not the director’s cut.

A Matrioshka of double-crosses in Japanese-occupied 1930s Korea.

This thriller is like a contemporary Tarantino without the joy. The lesbian love story is too heavy on the male gaze, becoming mere pornography. The plots within plots are implausible. The all-Korean cast speaks slightly accented Japanese, which is bad only in that the “Fujiwara” character is a Korean man playing a Japanese aristocrat, yet despite the actor’s pronunciation of 「偶然」, the character is able to fool all the Japanese around him. I appreciate that Park steered away from the baby-farming heist plot of the original novel and into a more focused critique of fascist sexual decadence, but this isn’t Salò (1975). The heroines ultimately rebel against decadence by simply destroying the porn-within-the-porn, while the anti-hero murders the fascist: Far too clean a fantasy after so much depravity, and nearly nothing gets done with the occupation.

moving picture fiction