There is an excellent series of YouTube videos about filmmaking called Every Frame a Painting. I kept thinking of that delicious phrase during The Handmaiden, Chan-wook Park’s exquisitely beautiful new potboiler. Every shot is stunning, and many are breathtaking. It’s the gorgeous movie of the year.
It’s also a lot of fun, a long-con melodrama concerning a rogue enlisting a pickpocket to apply for the position of handmaiden to a wealthy heiress in order to convince her to marry the rogue and defraud her of her fortune. That is, until serious sexual attraction gets in the way.
The book the film is based on, Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, is set in Victorian London, but Park sets his film in 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation while adhering strictly to the book’s sneaky structure. It’s a bold move but pays off rather exquisitely, the two eras and places aligned by strict class structures with ploarised wealthy and poverty-stricken folk, the former blissfully unaware of the latter, the latter all too aware of the former.
Park’s style is not for everyone – he switches tone with abandon, and his sense of humour is very particular – but The Handmaiden with its twisty-turny plot, stunning visuals and lashings of explicit lady-on-lady sex is probably his most accessible film to date. Great fun and an experiential feast.