2017.53: The Handmaiden (2016)
Much to my surprise, there’s actually a decent story in here with a few surprising twists and turns, but oh dear it’s a bit of a struggle getting there. Director Park Chan-wook is too intent on shocking the audience and getting the film a provocative reputation with its graphic scenes. It’s really Downtown Abbey for the Tarantino generation, which misses the point of its spiritual forebear, Basic Instinct, which was a pulp thriller deliberately cheesy and over the top, Paul Verhoeven imbuing essentially a silly b-movie with a knowing, arch sense of style and nods to old genre thrillers. Verhoeven is a more sophisticated film-maker than most give him credit for. Maybe Park was intending the same here, I don’t know- in anycase, it doesn’t really convince.
Most of it looks gorgeous, as you would expect from a modern film that is digitally shot with all the processing available in post these days. So it looks good, and it seems pretty well acted. I just think the original story (it is based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, previously adapted by the BBC) is probably captivating enough without being sensationalised with such graphic content. There’s a fine line between provocative and just plain silly, and some of this just seemed unintentionally funny- as the film goes on it just gets dafter and dafter. Park just doesn’t seem to know when to stop, or reign in his excesses, the film almost becoming a parody of itself. Maybe it’s just me missing the point, but in hindsight, Basic Instinct was a pretty good thriller. Not so sure what exactly The Handmaiden is, other than a period exploitation film.