The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

4/5 - (1 vote)
The Handmaiden Poster

Director: Park Chan-wook

Wrtier: Sarah Waters, Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook,

Stars: Kim Tae-ri Yong-nyeo Lee Min-chae Yoo


Summary: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.

The Handmaiden Trailer
The Handmaiden Review

The Handmaiden: A handmaiden with an evil plan enters a mysterious castle where a young girl lives with his uncle. She plans to work with a male fraud to make the girl fall in love with him and get her out of the control of her scary uncle. Hence, the man could reach the handsome amount of inheritance that the girl receives. The handmaiden’s efforts to swindle the lady will conclude with the most inconceivable results.

the handmaiden characters

“The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, a painting by the prominent Japanese painter Hokusai, painted in 1814, is the Watermark of Park Chan-wook’s most recent film. This painting is one of the most famous Japanese erotic artworks, also known as Shunga. Literally, Shunga means “the image of spring,” and figuratively, it is used to express sexual intercourse, which demonstrates the pudency of the east. In this picture, two octopuses have engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman. This is the image from which the erotic meaning of the film is deduced. Hideko, the lady of the eccentric castle with half-English and half-Japanese architecture, is trapped inside the walls put up by her deranged uncle. Sook-Hee’s entrance, in a scene where the camera emphasizes the enormous size of this peculiar mansion with a downward view of a car with Sook-Hee in it, driving on a sylvan path leading to the castle, in fact, promises the beginning of a complicated storyline, later getting entangled with a sentimental adventure.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Hideko has learned about love and lovemaking only from the erotic books of his uncle. In the second part of the story, where we watch Hideko’s childhood, we will find out that the uncle has disciplined her for days like this. Days when she sits in front of men in gatherings and reads them erotic writings and tricks them into buying the uncle’s books while also giving them pleasure. Fearing his uncle, this is the job she has learned from him all her life. But Sook-Hee’s entrance changes everything.

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After making Stoker in Hollywood and in English, fortunately, Park Chan-wook came back to his own country and, in his words, made another masterpiece that moves along the delicate line between imagination and reality, humor and grave; an erotic movie that presents erotism from the books of Shunga and pours it into the soul of its two female characters; a feminine film where the two main leads, without the knowledge of the other, deceive each other while also falling in love. This film stages gripping surprises by showing the story from two points of view, one Sook-Hee’s and the next Hideko’s.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

The reason for using the term “feminine” to describe the atmosphere of The Handmaiden is not just because of the love interest between the two girls and, later on, the bold lovemaking scenes from these two, which emulates the movie “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” Correspondingly, the men in Park Chan-wook’s film are all maniacs, always busy hearing erotic stories and getting pleasure from them; men that get great fetishistic pleasure not from love but from torture.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

The uncle does not require an explanation. He, showing off his black tongue and gloves in even one of the movie posters, is portrayed as a complete lunatic who only cares about selling his primitive books. He coils up on his erotic books just like how his plastic snake, which he has placed at the entrance of his library, coils itself to forbid the entrance of unauthorized people.

He imprisons the women of the story and disciplines them to read books to men. Eventually, his madness gets to the point where the aunt hangs herself because of him; something Hideko also does, following the ill fate of her aunt, but gets rescued by Sook-Hee at the last minute. On the other hand, in the first part of the story, from Sook Hee’s point of view, the count also occasionally approaches Hideko. But when we see the story from Hideko’s point of view, we realize those moments of kindness and lovemaking are only to fool Sook-Hee, or else the count, as he states it so freely, is only after Hideko’s money.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

The peak of the men’s madness in the film becomes evident in the scene where the count and the uncle meet. This scene, which features a disgusting, enormous octopus kept by the uncle in the aquarium, obviously refers to the famous painting by Hokusai, when the uncle cuts the count’s fingers one by one with the ferocity known and routine in Park Chan-wook’s cinematography, this torture seems to be rather pleasing to the count than painful. The men in this film by the great Korean director only think of money and indulge their endless sexual desires. They seem to have no humanity. This is where the feminine, gentle atmosphere of the film shows itself more than ever.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Although Park Chan-wook is Korean, he has managed to give depth to his film with inspiration from a Japanese painting with all its dazzling qualities and the peace and mysticism hidden in the nature of the essence of its eastern philosophy and outlook. Essentially, in the last 1200 years, great painters have risen from Japan, inspiring the greatest and most famous painters of the west. Painting in Japan has gone through different styles over different decades. This art first emerged from Korea and then under the influence of China. Buddhism, Zen, and meditation also appeared in Japanese paintings while also affecting Chinese painters. Japanese painting later surpassed its counterparts and gained many followers. Even by simply googling it, we can realize how much Japanese painters moved away from their eastern counterparts, founding various methods and styles of painting, and even, in a weird way, at least at first glance, outnumber them. Park Chan-wook’s reference to the eastern art of painting, and in particular, Japanese, starts from the poster.

With a look at The Handmaiden’s poster (Image no. 1) and the two paintings from two classic painters of Japan, Tawaraya Sōtatsu (died 1643) (Image no. 2) and Kanō Kōi (died 1636) (Image no. 3), we realize how much in debt this movie is to this time-honored and significant eastern art.

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Image 1

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Image 2

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Image 3

Even the picture we see on Hideko’s door and the one on the ending song (image no. 4) is evidently Japanese painting with all their characteristics and components, including trees, the moon, birds, and, altogether, nature (image no. 5).

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Image 4

The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)

Image 5

Japanese painting is like a poem indifferent to the precise description of the objects and realism. What is important is the fundamental essence of the tree and farm and stream. No notice is taken anymore to the details of painting in the European style like chiaroscuro and making far objects small and closer objects big and such matters. Hokusai, the painter who was referenced multiple times, as well as his important painting, in the new Park Chan-wook’s film, has said, “in Japanese painting, shapes, and colors are presented, without any endeavor to make the images conspicuous. But in European styles, images and their realistic appearance is taken into account.

The Japanese artist wanted to express his feelings. He intended to imply a state, just like how this principle is frequented in Japanese Haiku, too. The intention is not to repeat all the components of the scene in a detailed manner. It is just as well sufficient to convey the mood to the audience. If the Japanese artist is honest about his own feelings, it is as if he has obeyed realism. Japanese paintings are considered of such paramount importance to the point that strange tales have been told of the efforts of humans to protect and preserve them. For instance, one of the greatest Japanese painters was called Sesshū Tōyōand, whose artworks were of the same level of grandeur as those of Da Vinci for Europeans. It has been told that he was sentenced to fusillading since he was found guilty of committing the sin of misconduct. But he painted a picture of a few mice with his toes with such artistic talent that the mice came to life and chewed out the ties and freed him. Or in another story, it was told that a house was on fire, and the proprietor, who owned one of Sesshū’s artworks, finding the getaway blocked, ripped out his stomach and placed the priceless scroll in it. Later, this piece was removed from his burnt-out corpse, unscathed. Japanese artworks have been damaged or destroyed for various reasons and what remains of them are among the private collections belonging to different people. As we see in The Handmaiden, too, the uncle owns a collection of rolls and drapes of mainly erotic paintings, which he cherishes like his own life.

Anyway, The Handmaiden, the film of the prominent Korean director, relying on the Japanese art of painting, is an unmitigated return to the ambiance he knows splendidly.

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The handmaiden ending explained:

Under the guise of getting Hideko ready for her marriage to the Count, the two wind up having a sexual encounter. Sook-hee initially expresses hesitation about the idea, but when Hideko says she loves someone other than the Count, Sook-hee becomes adamant about the union.

What was in the basement The Handmaiden?

Hideko is afraid of her uncle’s creepy cellar, which is eventually found to be a torture room. Uncle Kouzuki is a creep; he has incestuous intentions for Hideko.

Why is there an Octopus in The Handmaiden?

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a pornographic artwork by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) from the Edo period, was featured in Part 1 of the movie.

What is the message of The Handmaiden?

The Handmaiden is an enduring example of erotic filmmaking, but it is also fundamentally a feminist work. The movie demonstrates the sexuality and sovereignty of women. An out lesbian named Waters wrote the book itself.

Is The Handmaiden a good movie?

It’s a lovely movie with intelligence and quality. The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook immerses the audience in a devious con game of psychological deceit, wicked predators, grim humor, and vile sexual pleasures.

About Author

I have loved movies since I can remember. This love is still in me and will be. Cinema is my life! On this site, my colleagues and I write articles that will help you to have a better and deeper connection with the world of movies and TV series. ENJOY!

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The Handmaiden Quotes
Lady Hideko : The daughter of a legendary thief, who sewed winter coats out of stolen purses. Herself a thief, pickpocket, swindler. The saviour who came to tear my life apart. My Tamako. My Sookee.
Lady Hideko : Reading can be learned, and I don't care if you curse or steal. But don't ever lie to me. Understood?
Lady Hideko : But, for sending me Sook-hee out of all the girls in the world, I feel 'slightly' grateful.
Lady Hideko : Men are disgusting. How can they be so single-minded?
Count Fujiwara : What's on your mind? You don't really believe that I crave your body? You do! You read too many books. If there's one thing I'm after, Miss... It's not your eyes, your hands, or your ass. It's your money, only that. Of all that you have, money is the best.
Lady Hideko : I wish I'd never been born.
Lady Hideko : Love? What does a crook know about love?
Lady Hideko : Is it stupid to love someone being someone like you?
Lady Hideko : [narrating] At that moment, a drop of insanity could cause one to go completely mad. If I could drive Sasaki mad as well, then life would've been more fun.
Lady Hideko : You think you're tricking me? You're the one being tricked.

2 responses to “The Handmaiden movie review & analysis (2016)”

  1. Fiskmås says:

    best thriller ever made. Everything contains both art and revulsion. Every scene in this movie evokes such intense emotions that you won’t be able to take your eyes off it, even the intimate scenes, which the majority of viewers tend to skip. But if you see it from an artistic perspective, it’s a masterpiece.

  2. LUCIFER says:

    I mean, really. You won’t be dissatisfied.
    I don’t want to give anything away, but trust me when I say that the two main characters’ closeness and affection are so endearing! You wouldn’t be let down. Additionally, Sook-hee is hysterically caustic with the males she meets. While Lady Hideko is really attractive, as Sook-hee said! Her character has been wonderfully written. However, enough already! Trying not to spoil too much.

    Also, I only heard positive feedback about the film’s production, which is heartening to hear given how frequently women are exploited on and off the set of wlw movies. Luckily, none of that was done to the lead women throughout the film’s production.

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