We can take all the violence a film throws at us, be it blood, lost limbs, or pierced eyeballs. But when it comes to sex, we can’t help but squint. Maybe it’s the personal nature, or the thought that a cinematic moment can potentially create arousing sensations upon witnessing skin on skin? The Handmaiden, the latest from Park Chan-wook is all about sex, and all the good and bad that comes with it. Don’t close your eyes for this one, sex is violent too, you know?
The Handmaiden is a period drama focusing on one long con, as pickpocket Sook-hee is sent on a job to manipulate a marriage with inheritance as an end goal, prompting Lady Hideko at just the right moments so she can fall madly in love.
These attempts are handled with light strokes of comic timing mixed with a little darkness, the sort of balance Park Chan-wook has been a master of since the Vengeance Trilogy both shocked and awed. The mood can change as fast as the film cuts from scene to scene, though it adds colour rather than confusion.
With the head of the house collecting books about sex, the very subject is ever-present, and then there’s the sex scenes. These scenes still have a male gaze hanging around them, but the sexual experience of two women is contrasted well against the ineptness of the men, Blue is the Warmest Colour this ain’t. Sex is violent, beautiful, controlling, seductive… it’s everything in The Handmaiden.