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The Handmaiden (2016)

August 28, 2017

Starring: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Director: Chan-wook Park (Old Boy)

Bottom Line: There was a time when I used to watch foreign language films on a regular basis – at least the ones that got high critical acclaim and Oscar attention. But I just scrolled through all my reviews and the only foreign language film I’ve reviewed in the past five years was The Raid: Redemption. Needless to say, the scope for my love of cinema isn’t what it used to be. But I saw The Handmaiden pop up on a lot of top 10 lists last year and it was even mentioned as the best film of 2016 by multiple people and I put it near the top of my Netflix queue and it finally ended up in my mail box.

After my wife quit on La La Land thirty minutes in, I knew there was no way I was going to subject her to The Handmaiden and I have to say I’m glad I didn’t try. If I did she would probably think I’m some sort of weirdo pervert for liking this movie. It’s highly sexual and more explicit than you might expect. To label it softcore porn isn’t totally unfair, but it would be a slap in the face to what is otherwise a very good thriller with strong characters, a fun and twisted story, and some rather spectacular cinematography.

I didn’t walk away from The Handmaiden thinking it was one of the best films from last year – it didn’t resonate with me like that. But it was plenty enjoyable and at nearly 2.5 hours in length, it never felt like it was dragging. I couldn’t possible recommend this movie to most of the people that read my blog. If you don’t have a history of liking foreign language films, The Handmaiden wouldn’t be the first one I’d recommend. It’s pretty out there and I suspect it would be rated NC-17 if it was released in the United States. But to anyone that doesn’t mind broadening their film horizons and taking in cinema from other cultures, The Handmaiden is well worth a watch.

Replay Value: I would watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: No Oscar love, but it won a lot of Best Foreign Language Film awards elsewhere, sits at a 8.1 rating on IMDB, and has a metascore of 84 – obviously a very well received film.

Grade: 6.5/10 (recommended/highly enjoyable)

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