Tae-ri Kim plays Sook-hee, an undercover thief, posing as a handmaiden for Lady Hideko (played by Min-hie Kim). Her task is to convince the rich Lady Hideko to marry a conman so he can steal her fortune and commit her to a mental hospital. Sook-hee eventually admits her part in the plot, but not before Lady Hideko marries the con man, and hatches a plot herself to commit Sook-hee in her stead. When they confide in each other, they also fall in love and eventually...well, I won't spoil the twist for you.
The costumes and make-up were gorgeous, but the real visual coup were the facial expressions. I'm convinced that this story could have been told with no dialogue whatsoever. Each glance, each body movement, each hand gesture told a story. You can see Sook-hee and Lady Hideko falling in love even before they know it, and you can feel the twist coming a mile away - although it's not so easy to guess how it might play out. That being said, this movie is definitely not for children. There were a lot of abusive and risque scenes that did nothing to enhance the movie or move the plot forward.
The Handmaiden is definitely no Oldboy.
It feels like Park is using the premise of a film made about strong and vengeful women to instead make a movie for men. I felt the same about, "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance." I maintain that it's too hard for men to write a strong female character, and this movie is no different. The motivations and actions just don't seem real, although this movie garnered a lot of awards, including a BAFTA award for Best Movie not in a Foreign Language, and a nomination for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Park, at least for me, feels a lot like M. Night Shyamalan...he had a couple of great ideas that turned into fabulous films, and he's just trying to get that magic back. I won't stop watching Park's work - in fact, he has a TV Mini-Series coming out called The Little Drummer Girl that I'll be sure to catch.
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