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Review The Handmaiden a.k.a. Ah-ga-ssi (2016): Twisted, pleasant and mesmerizing!

genre: drama, mystery, thriller, romance

By now you must have at least heard or read a lot about The Handmaiden and in general the film has very favourable reviews. So is there truth to this? Oh yes, it is. But you do need to be aware that The Handmaiden is not an on the edge seat thriller like Old Boy  (a.k.a. Oldeuboi 2003) or even a dark drama like Stoker was which are earlier works of director Chan-wook Park. Although I have to say that The Handmaiden does seem to be on the same level as Old Boy.

I wasn't really a big fan of Stoker. I didn't find it particularly interesting but once I found out about The Handmaiden and some footage was shown to me I was sold. Unlike Stoker The Handmaiden is a very pleasant watch. It touches upon many themes but at it's core it's a love story with some twisted elements in it. I am not even referring to the sex scenes since for the most part those are tastefully filmed and at times are truly erotic. Although I was a little disappointed that apart from one scene there wasn't more BDSM featured. But to be fair you get something just as good or even better in return so it's not really a bad thing. The Handmaiden is not a particularly complicated film but it does demand the viewer to pay attention since it is very easy to miss vital plot points.  

The biggest surprise to me was the overall funny and light tone. You really get to know some of the characters and what they are about and one of them Sook- Hee is hilarious. Her demeanour and attitude will make you like her instantly. At the same time you will also get to see sides to her that are despicable. Actually all of the main characters will be shown in different lights but only sparingly so that you still will be left wondering what direction this film is going. And honestly this is one of those films you can't really predict how it is going to play out since there are quite some nice twists and turns. Only like I said don't get too hung up about them they aren't the main focus.

So if it is light and funny how can it still be twisted? Just trust me that it's best left unsaid and that you need to see it for yourself. There are some things in this film that resonated with me but very probably that has to do with my appreciation for wickedness and depravity in psychological explorations like these. BTW my use of the word mesmerizing in the title is a pun. But I stand by what I said. 

The Handmaiden is a very good film that you have to watch at least once. For the most part time goes by fast. It's only towards the end that it loses a bit of steam. To be honest it should not have been any longer but there is an extended cut released with twenty minutes extra. Korean fans of the film demanded this. Apparently they could not get enough of it. That says a lot doesn't it?

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