Movie Date: The Handmaiden (R21)
It’s the women who will get turned on by The Handmaiden, not the men.
STARRING: Kim Min Hee, Ha Jung Woo, Kim Tae Ri, Jo Jin Woong
DIRECTOR: Park Chan Wook
THE SKINNY: Con man Count Fujiwara (Ha) hires pickpocket Sook Hee (Tae Ri) to become the maid of heiress Lady Hideko (Min Hee) in an attempt to seize her wealth. Hideko lives with her uncle Kouzuki (Jo), who forces her to participate in kinky storytelling sessions with his guests. The story takes a twist when Hideko and her maid are sexually drawn to each other.
MARS by JASON JOHNSON
With credits such as Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, director Park is a film nerd fave.
He makes films about sex and violence, which frankly I'm over.
It upsets me that a funny, visceral, psychosexual thriller like last year's Knock Knock gets lambasted by critics, while The Handmaiden gets praised.
Why? Because it's set in the old-timey days? Because of the aristocratic milieu? Because it's shot like a coffee table book?
What we have is Park foisting his dirty little preoccupations on us under the cover of lavishness.
Park's primary obsession is vengeance, but he's also big on torture, suicide, incest and octopuses.
Yet the most bizarre scene in The Handmaiden is when our two heroines rampage through a library destroying erotic books and pictures.
It's supposed to be a girl power moment, but it rings hollow.
This is a movie that relies on the promise of sweet lesbian sex to put bums in seats, and yet is getting all prissy about naughty woodblock prints?
Some might say Park is trying to have it both ways.
I would say Park has no idea what he's trying to say.
The Handmaiden is a confused mess that has simply befuddled critics into submission.
VENUS by TAN KEE YUN
Soft porn-ish, sexploitation flick, wet dream with hints of sadomasochism - The Handmaiden has been called many things since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Depending on how you look at it, the movie is all of the above.
Some viewers will be going into theatres for the hyped eroticism between the two Kims.
(Spoiler alert.) Some are in it for Park's trademark gory violence (stay till the end for gratuitous scenes of decapitation and bloodletting).
A great film evokes different emotional reactions in each of us and we walk away from it with different experiences and interpretations.
Personally, I love The Handmaiden because it is driven, at its core, by feminism. There is no other Asian film in recent memory with such a theme.
On the surface, the nudity and sex appear to cater to the male gaze, but by the time the credits roll, it is clear The Handmaiden is a majestic, feminist revenge thriller.
Sook Hee and Lady Hideko ultimately traverse a web of deceit and double-crossing to defeat the misogynistic pigs - the men in their lives - who have been manipulating them.
Their exquisitely shot love-making sequence is just icing on the masterpiece.
THE CONSENSUS: Ironically, it’s the women who will get turned on by The Handmaiden, not the men.