“You Being The First is the Money” The Handmaiden review


14886217_1040838869357950_851251975_nThe Handmaiden review: by Rob Stoakes

UK certification: TBC

Park Chan-wook is possibly a lunatic. You might not be familiar with his name, but you’ve definitely heard of Old Boy. If you haven’t seen Old Boy, by the way, I will hunt you down and eat your soul. But yeah, the man has a brand of insanity that is hard to place. His stories are all skeevy, with a violent and sexual edge that makes most of his films difficult to watch, but he then breaks it up with goofy slapstick. It’s like if Charles Manson made the Looney Tunes.

Take his most recent film, The Handmaiden. Wikipedia describes it as “an erotic psychological thriller”, but some of these scenes wouldn’t go amiss in a Minions picture. There are several pratfalls, an artist looking to his student to find an embarrassing stick figure on her canvas, and the main character stopping someone from hanging themselves and then dropping them while distracted. If the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme was in this, this would be the best comedy of the year.

He is also a fan of plot twists, so much so that I don’t want to sum up the plot. The most I can say without spoiling is that a bank note counterfeiter, Song-hee, and a conman forge a get-rich-quick scheme. The plan gets complicated, however, when Song-hee gets herself a big crush and…

… that’s it. That’s all I can say, because the moment the 40-minute mark hits, the plot goes absolutely bonkers. It says a lot when the most sensible bit involves simulated sex with a mannequin. It jumps between different points of time and even entire genres, but the closest it really gets to, oddly, is a Hitchcock thriller. It has a certain deranged, implied horror in all of the scenes, especially when you learn what’s in the…

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… nope, I’m doing it again. Errr, I need to talk about something else. Well, the acting is nice. It’s hard to say when you don’t speak the same language as the actors, but it sounds about right to me. Min-hee Kim makes for a great Hideko, mixing in depression, strength and a scary fakeness, and Tae-ri Kim manages to show just how in-over-her-head Song-hee actually is even as she fools everyone else in the building. The best actor, though, is probably the darkly hilarious and scary Jung-woo Ha as the conman, to the point that I’m halfway convinced Chan-wook just dragged a real conman off the street, gave him a whip and told him to…

… again with the spoilers. Right, new topic, err… this might just be my copy of it, but the translation is spotty in places. Actually, scratch that, the translation is Pokemon Vietnamese bad. Several times, a line is repeated but then the translation is something entirely different, and the words “you being the first is money” leave another person’s mouth and the editor didn’t mind.

It’s a shame, too, because the directing is absolutely top-notch, with excellent framing and a pace that isn’t a second too fast or slow. The music design, too, is awesome, with interlaced dialogue and sounds revealing a character’s real thoughts. Everything else technical is on point, and then the translation burbles out some lunacy. It almost ruins the bit where…

… you know what? I’ll just make stuff up to avoid spoilers. So, in the end, The Handmaiden is one of the best international films this year, with the heart-tugging scene when the monkey drives a car being a particular highlight. Even the dishwashing scene avoids being exploitative and instead feeds into the plot. Although I will say, the cross-dressing Snoop Dogg cameo at the end felt a bit out of place.

Budget: $8.3 million/Music: Yeong-Wook Jo/Length: 144 minutes

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The guys onboard the Battleship Potemkast interviewed Movie Metropolis founder Adam Brannon in their latest edition, check it out below:

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