The Handmaiden Movie Review
Every time I get excited for another movie by Chan-wook Park, I have to remind myself that the only movie of his that I’ve truly loved is Oldboy. All the rest, no matter how inventive or fucked up, are one-and-done’s, and unfortunately The Handmaiden is no different.
About a young, female con artist (Kim Tae-ri) who becomes the handmaiden to a rich but reserved lady (Min-hee Kim) in order to convince her to fall in love and marry her con artist colleague (Jung-woo Ha) so that he in turn can lock his new wife up in an insane asylum and acquire all of her wealth, The Handmaiden is pretty straightforward until Park throws one of his expected but unpredictable curveballs midway through the movie.
The setup and characters are interesting enough, and the twist is well done, but after that, The Handmaiden nevers gets better--and in fact devolves into some pretty twisted stuff that isn’t nearly as interesting or as satisfying as some of the director’s earlier work.
The performances are solid, especially by Kim Tae-ri, and the film looks fantastic. Diehard fans of Park will also find plenty to enjoy, as the movie certainly movies into the realm of sadism and other dark things that serve as a good reminder that the filmmaker is not scared to go in directions others may not.
And yet, the basic story is just that: basic. After the initial twist, the movie becomes almost predictable in its outcome, even though Park attempts to overcome such predictability with a bunch of sideshows and subplots (Lesbian sex! Torture! Abuse! Oh my!). After such a strong first half, the second is shockingly ordinary. Relatively speaking.
The Handmaiden isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t great, either. Like so many of Park’s other movies, it’s intriguing, original and fearless, but it’s not a movie I’d watch again or even recommend to most people.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.