Thursday, October 27, 2016

Park Chan Wook’s technically executed "The Handmaiden" follows Amazon's orders

By Moira Sullivan

Official poster is a narrative of the narrative

Park Chan Wook’s “Mademoiselle (Agassi, South Korea)” - "The Handmaiden" in its US Theatrical release, is a skillfully made narrative on sexual bondage during the Japanese colonization of South Korea in the 1930's. Set designer Ryu Seong-hie won the “Vulcain Prize For An Artist Technician” at the Cannes Film Festival in May 22, one of the top prizes for technical achievement, a prize that is seldom given. The set designer also worked on Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” and “Thirst” and is definitely a brilliant craftsperson who brings high quality to film. The virtues of Ryu Seong-hie’s work shines through and at first glance the film is so exquisitely composed that for a moment the Palme d’Or comes to mind. 

However, for that to succeed there has to be more cohesion than just set design, for neither Park Chan Wook nor 2013 Palme d'Or recipient Abdellatif Kechiche (who directed "La Vie d' Adele -Blue is the Warmest Color") have shown themselves capable of making a film with authentic lesbian characters. Certainly, the actors in "Blue is the warmest color " (Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos) agree and complained how the director exploited them. This time, whether or not this kind of voyeurism took place on the set of” Mademoiselle”, the relationship between the two women is done more for heterosexual titillation, including the love scenes between the two women. 

Primary focus is the usage of an overdone theme of pornographic writing in the style of de Sade's ilk that has been given ample room in films of today. A young girl is bred to read pornographic literature for a wealthy man’s clientele by her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo). He is a book collector but later we learn that it is only porn that he collects. The nightmares of his niece have to do with the sexual violence she is subjected to by him via image, text and touch where there has been a criminal betrayal of trust by him and his housekeeper. The womans mother, in fact, was driven to suicide by the uncle. When the girl grows up she has become the wealthy heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). A dastardly plan is created by Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) who schemes to get a pickpocket Sook-hee (Tae Ri Kim) to pose as a handmaiden, gain her confidence and assist in making Count Fujiwara her future husband. Their plan is to drive Lady Hideko mad like her mother and make off with her fortune. 

It is not only this complicated plot that is the foundation of "Mademoiselle"but the fact that Park Chan Wook chooses to tell the story from different perspectives in three parts to allow the spectator inside information that is not possible by following just one of the narrative arches. This is done well, but not as cleverly designed as the art direction. The house where Uncle Kouzuki lives is a composite of half western and half Japanese architecture in this Korean screenplay based on the Victorian novel by Sarah Waters" Fingersmith" (made into a minseries in 2005). However, Park Chan Wook’s adaptation, though seductive, relies heavily on heterosexual porn and sexual violence against women to be considered an LGBT classic. When asked about his film, Park Chan Wook said it was about "three people with secrets". It became known through the Cannes Festival trades that VOD distributor Amazon Studios requested that  the same sex nature of the film be toned down and the South Korean director complied. He also is on record stating that the story is "cute".


© 2016 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/26/16
Movie Magazine International

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