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From Under A Rock: The Handmaiden

November 13, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
The Handmaiden
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From Under A Rock: The Handmaiden  

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Not all films have to be old to achieve greatness. That’s what the term “instant classic” is for. And that’s what this week’s pick is.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael chose Borat. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock to show him The Handmaiden.

The Handmaiden
Released: June 1st, 2016 (South Korea)
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Written by: Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung
Starring:
Kim Min-hee as Lady Izumi Hideko
Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee
Ha Jung-woo as Count Fujiwara
Cho Jin-woong as Uncle Kouzuki

Aaron Hubbard: Simple; I loved this film. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or am likely to see again anytime soon. I wanted to share the experience with Michael and perhaps expose the movie to some of our readers.

Michael Ornelas: Aaron decided to make me put in work by watching a movie with subtitles. And it was worth it. If you haven’t seen this movie, WATCH IT! It was unique, and captivating, and WATCH IT!
Umbrella
Something Wholly Original
Aaron: The more media one consumes, the harder it is to be genuinely surprised. A good movie will play the beats you know really well, a great one will find a slightly new approach. And then there’s this movie. Based on a novel called “Fingersmith”, the film is a gripping thriller where everyone is duplicitous and playing everyone else. And… it’s also one of the sexiest and most sincere love stories I’ve ever watched. It’s hard to get into specifics without spoilers, but suffice to say, if you think you know where this movie is going, you’re probably wrong.

Michael: I can truly say that I haven’t seen anything like this before. Hell, it took an hour and a half before I even really knew what genre it was (which isn’t a fault of the movie, more a testament to its ability to tiptoe between classifications to give a truly one-of-a-kind experience), and even then I continued to second guess myself. It’s a love story, but also horrifying (emotionally), and a thriller, but also kind of a con/crime movie. It’s all of those things, and it does all of them well. This is the hardest review to write without spoiling anything…but since I know very few of you will have seen (or even heard of) this, I’m going to refrain.

Aaron: I’m going to have to get into some mild spoilers for our third discussion topic, but if you haven’t seen this movie, do so and come back. Surprises like this are very rare, and it’s even rarer to see them in films as expertly crafted as this. All the “movie magic” is very well done here; production design, acting, cinematography, editing, etc. It’s all in service of a story that deserves to be seen with as little pre-existing knowledge as possible.
WhatsHerFace
What You Think You Know vs. What’s Actually Happening
Michael: This movie does an excellent job of redirecting its narrative by giving the audience information from differing perspectives, and seeing what’s really goes on completely changes, yet enriches, the context of everything you saw up to that point. It’s seamless. You will experience every emotion you know how to express while adventuring through this story, and you will end up very satisfied, much like the graphic sex experienced by the characters in the film (warning: this movie is incredibly sexual so if that’s not something you’re okay with, it may not be for you. At the very least, don’t watch this with your parents).

Aaron: Thanks for that Michael. But yeah, with a narrative like this, the film has to have almost flawless structure and it pulls it off. The information we get and when we get it drastically affects how we feel, and it’s a tribute to the editing team and the director that everything feels smooth. It also makes the repeat viewing a totally different experience, enriching the first half quite a bit. Also; that sex scene doesn’t feel exploitative or unnecessary. It’s a critical moment for both characters and pretty much embodies everything the film is about. Being graphic and tasteful is not an easy feat, but here we are.
Uncle
SPOILER: Escape From Control
Aaron: Hey, let’s talk about everybody’s favorite topic; women escaping the oppressive control of toxic men and finding a new life for themselves where they can be authentic instead of having to lie and keep quiet just to survive! Yeah, look, the movie is amazing under any circumstances, but what’s on the screen is what’s on the screen. It’s a very feminist piece and while it uses a period setting to make the material more palatable, its main theme rings true today. Hell, even more so lately. And while a movie doesn’t have to appeal to my personal politics for me to like it, I won’t deny it’s one of the reasons the film stuck with me.

Michael: Both of the women in the film have similar arcs that converge to an immediate connection, despite neither having pure motives. To see them mirror one another in that way (but not realize it until both narratives unfold over time) is quite astonishing because it feels fresh both times. It leads up to a climax that left me feeling like this is indeed an immediate classic.

Aaron: Also, to reiterate a point; yes, the sex scene is necessary. It’s turning something that the men are using to control our heroes into something they are in control of. It’s an epiphany moment and one that works as a bonding experience. The film takes something most of us have hangups about and shows that the intent behind it can make it the worst thing or the best thing about the human experience.

Ratings:
Michael: There’s a lot of praise to give to this movie, and at the end of the day, it’s because of a truly original story and precise execution of an interesting way to deliver it. Just go watch it!

A+

Aaron: I actually hesitated with this grade after the first viewing; plot twists can often lead to diminishing returns. But the film is expertly crafted and so unique. It’s one of the decade’s best movies.

A+

Michael: I didn’t expect this.

Aaron: It’s a very pleasant surprise and I hope more people get to experience it.

What films do you think have the most original and worthwhile stories?

Next week:

Michael: Next week’s pick is a British comedy that I fell in love with in high school, and probably haven’t watched in at least 5 years, if not more. I look forward to seeing how I like it now.
LS2SB
Aaron: Well now that’s a title. I’ve heard good things about this and I’m very curious to see what it’s about.

Michael: I remember it being hilarious.

What’s your favorite British Comedy?

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10.0
The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
The Handmaiden is one of 2016's best movies. Masterfully directed by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame, the film has one of the most original, surprising and compelling stories you're likely to see in a movie. If you are a discerning adult looking for a movie that will wow you, do yourself a favor and watch this one cold. It's an instant classic.
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