Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden
Cert: 18 / 145 mins / Dir. Park Chan-wook / Trailer

Well, that film is definitely a thing. Upon that, the critics and I can agree. Park Chan-wook's lavish*1 reworking of Sarah Waters' The Fingersmith is a magnificent looking and intricately constructed film. The visual symmetry is frequently breathtaking, and the script is full of poetic refrains and callbacks. Earnestly acted and surprisingly witty despite the language barrier*2. It's just punctuated with stretches of exploitative trash masquerading as provocative-cinema.

The Handmaiden was already precariously balancing an intricate tale of deception and greed, using a non-linear timeline and set in a historical/geo-political period I know basically nothing about. To be entirely honest, the thing which kept me from engaging properly with the film was All Of The Sex All Of The Time. I understand of course that sex (notably not love, here) is one of the central pins around which the story is spun, but the longer each of the scenes went on, the less they added to the overall film (other than raw run-time, obviously). And while I'm pretty certain it was never the director's intention, the whole thing starts coming off as For The Dads. The film's fixation would be seen as tacky and exploitative in a mainstream Hollywood movie*3, I don't see why Korean/Japanese cinema should be exempt*4. As previously noted, great cinematography is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for smut.

And speaking of directorial vision etc, how come the self-same cinema I attended was showing the regular 145-minute version*5 of the film at 11:00, 14:10 and 17:10, but a 167-minute Director's Cut at 20:10? Why does the 'standard' version of the film even exist if the distributor is willing to show a 'purer' cut of the film within the same release window? Did they figure the extra 20 minutes was just going to be too much for most mainstream punters?

"Here, have this lovely burger. Mind you, if you come back later today, you can have a better version of the burger that our chef actually approves of, but for the same price. The first one's not crap. We never said that, no…"

Short version: there are things in this movie that I really love, but in the end I couldn't be more than interested in the final product. Maybe I should have held out for the director's cut after all? Plus I was waiting for Doctor Eyebrows there to bust a move with that octopus: nothing. It's like Watchmen all over again...
It's not that I hated The Handmaiden at all, but at the time of going to press I watched it three days ago and the only lingering memories I have are of the things I disliked. I'm intrigued by the film cinematically, but evidently don't love it the way everyone else seems to. Although that's hardly an unusual state of affairs.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Genuinely no idea.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you want to see it, sure.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Judging from pretty much all other critical response, yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
In terms of the cast, I couldn't say.
In terms of the director (Oldboy, Stoker), no

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: As mentioned, this is directed by Park Chan-wook, who also helmed Stoker, which starred Ralph 'Ric Olié' Brown.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
Yep. Best I can give it, I'm afraid.

*1 The sort of thing which, were it in magazine-form, would be most likely enjoyed in a lav. There, I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 Never a script to pull its punches, the UK cut is subtitled from both Japanese and Korean (yellow text for the former language, white for the latter, which works fantastically well). And it feels very much like the dialogue has been adapted by someone in the UK, rather than by an American or broader-European translator. The word 'flummoxed' appears twice, and references to 'mother' are denoted as 'mum' (ie not mom'). There's also the repeated use of the exclamation "fucking hell" (something us Brits say on average 3-4 times a day, more in my case). But the film's best line, "You thought Miss Hideko to be a lamb. Lamb, my arse.", made me begin to wonder if this had been script-edited by The Inbetweeners[ BACK ]

*3 There were twenty-one people in to see this on a Saturday-morning. Twenty-one people to see a two-and-a-half hour Korean/Japanese film that's already been out a week. So it's still garnering over five times more interest than the latest Katherine Heigl pot-boiler, also notably "for the dads"… [ BACK ]

*4 While I assure you I don't write middling/snarky reviews to be a contrarian film-reviewer type, I am nonetheless expecting All The Comments for this one. Go right ahead. Nothing you say will have made me enjoy the film any more/less, and in all likelihood won't make me see it in a different light after the fact… [ BACK ]

*5 And while I'm on, the two cuts at Picturehouse Central are listed as 145 and 167 minutes, but the registered version on the BBFC website says 156? Don't tell me there's a third edit floating about..? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment