Monday, December 12, 2016

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden is a piece of Victorian pornography as postmodern novel in movie form. It immediately recalls Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac in the way it transforms self-consciously literary themes into filmic poetry. The Handmaiden, for instance, is composed of three parts which perform the cinematic equivalent of the unreliable narrator in a novel, with each part rethinking the narrative and presenting earlier scenes both with more information and from an ever so slightly skewed point of view. Like Nyphomaniac, The Handmaiden shares a fascination with the reticulations of perversion--the eroticism, in the case, symbiotically interwoven with the varying characters' ambitions. The grander theme is Art, in this case the art of deception or forgery. Under the veneer of beauty and a highly evolved esthetic the movie presents a crew of criminals who are each working a con. The assorted talents could easily fit the bill for a Korean version of The Threepenny Opera.  The Handmaiden, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a pickpocket, who is only posing as a servant, but her mistress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is running her own scam, playing the part of a kind of aristocratic rube when she turns out to be the exploiter rather than the victim in the scheme that underlies the plot. Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong the sadistic book collector, who fashions himself a Japanese aristocrat, and Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) are examples of self-invention since neither is what he claims to be. All the artistic imposters recall Gide’s Counterfeiters. There are side themes of training in art, obedience and actually lovemaking which coalesce around the character of Lady Hideko who is taught from a young age to read erotic literature at soirees organized by her uncle and who in the course of the film finds herself in a torrid relationship with her nemesis. The movie is complexly conceived and lush in every regard.  It takes place at the time of the Japanese occupation in the l930's and Korean is conceived of as the demotic and less beauteous language. Both Japanese and Korean are spoken and the subtitles themselves appearing in either yellow or white depending on the language are cleverly used to create their own antiphony. In this regard the movie has the feel of a Gregorian chant with each of the strands unfolding competing narratives of corruption.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.