First Hit: Extremely provocative, well made, and engaging film about deception and love.
This movie was lusciously filmed. Each frame was mesmerizing and had the potential to hypnotize the audience away from the intrigue that builds throughout its entire 2 ½ hour length.
Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) is a con man and recruits Sook-Hee/Tae Ri Kim (played by Kim Tae-ri) to ingratiate herself and become a Handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese woman, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). His goal is to have her help Hideko fall in love with him. The objective would be to marry Hideko for her money, and then hopefully break her heart so much that she gets put into a mental institution, thereby giving him both freedom and money. The payoff for the pickpocketing Sook-Kee, is a nice sum of money, jewelry, and freedom from her current theft oriented life.
She is brought to Lady Hideko’s house where she lives with her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo) who deals in rare books and fakes of rare books. He also wants his young niece intimately along with her money, but is waiting for her to begin to open to him. He’s grooming her for himself by teaching her to read sexually explicit books to his favorite friends in his beautiful personal library. Her readings are engaging and everyone in the room, including her uncle, has an erotic experience. With Sook-Hee in place, Fujiwara’s plan begins to unfold.
Just as I think I’ve got the concept of the film and plot, Part II starts and we begin to view this whole experience from a different perspective. More from the perspective of Lady Hideko. Watching this unfold I found myself feeling bad for Sook-Hee because I wonder if she’s been tricked.
Then Part III unfolds and another perspective shows itself. However, this perspective is aimed at love and brings up what the audience witnesses during Parts I & II. Here the dynamics of the truth unfolds itself with each of the characters and roles begin to pay for their truth and deceit.
The longer this film goes the more engaging and interesting it gets. As I previously stated, this film is filled with luxurious and luscious scenes. The photography is fantastic and the graphic sensuality only adds to its intrigue. The way each part unfolds a version of the story, each character becomes more evolved and continues to create audience engagement.
Ha is fun and appropriately ego centric as his part calls for. I thought he was really good at this. Tae-ri is fascinating as the girl who survives on street smarts, and when she is giving Hideko a bath she (and we the audience) see realizes she's capable of being touched humanly and deeply. It is a great scene. Kim, as Lady Hideko, is beautiful beyond compare. She carries the right amount of arrogance, fragility, and privilege as a woman who has never traveled away from her home. She wants to experience more than what she has, yet is both curious and afraid of breaking down her current life's boundaries. Jo is oddly interesting as the somewhat perverted uncle who is also a deceiver. Seo-Kyung Chung and Chan-wook Park wrote a wonderfully complex screenplay that only reveals itself as the film moves along. Park’s direction was great and it was clear he had a clear vision of what he wanted because the stories were intriguing and engaging.
Overall: I got more than I thought I would, a very engaging film.