Thursday, 1 September 2016


Seeing is never believing in Park Chan Wook's films. It's the premier component in what makes him such an exciting filmmaker, particularly when he can hold off allowing the abundant surface pleasures of his films to overwhelm them. He succeeds only to an extent in The Handmaiden, though there's sufficient pleasure to be had in its surface alone to sustain your interest. What makes this film so consistently engaging is that Park actually wants us to see - his jolting zooms, narrative ellipses, flashy mise-en-scene, and syncopated editing are designed to direct our attention, to impose a strong sense of dramatic irony that is itself doubly, deceptively ironic. The erotic satisfaction in the withholding and the exposing of secrets is matched by the common emotional satisfaction for the viewer, the thrill on being let in and on being led on. And with such a bold, vivid style, Park is able to hide those secrets in plain sight, both from his characters and from his audience. It's particularly fulfilling to glean the full truth knowing that the signs were there all along, barely concealed, bursting forth to greet us would that we were not so seduced by The Handmaiden's tricks and treats. It's a gorgeous film, almost too gorgeous, a buffet of beauty so extravagant you may wish there was some relief, if only to better appreciate that beauty, to compare and contextualize it. Park evidently revels in the beauty he observes in the film's central lesbian relationship; simmering away quite deliciously until it spills over in scenes of undue male-gaze prurience, only reinforcing the taboos it seeks to demolish. Yet overall, The Handmaiden's perspective on sexuality is a healthy, progressive one - sex and sexual desire are depicted here as gateways, as means of expression that open up new sensual, emotional and actual possibilities. A rich, generous film, to a fault indeed, but to a fabulous fault!