Movie Review: Defeating Dissipation

“The Handmaiden,” Director: Park Chan-wook, 2 hours 47 minutes.


In Korea in the 1930s, Japanese occupiers clash with Korean occupied, bourgeoisie clash with lower classes, morals clash with dissipation, men clash with women, men clash with men, and women clash with women in this wonderful Eastern version of “The Sting.” While the viewer may be amazed at the character development or the amazing settings or the wonderfully stylized presentations, it’s the story itself that transfixes us. Like most good stories, it takes its own leisurely time in the telling. It involves the long con and several short cons. Its point of view completely changes more than once.

We’re talking about a complicated movie here, but one unraveled for us by outstanding storytelling.

If erotic sex scenes worry you, don’t take your kids to see this one. Some will call it a dirty movie, but it’s less pornography than about pornography. A dissolute, cruel and dirty old rich man sits at the center of the story. He dedicates himself to rich pretensions, dirty books and corruption. Everybody else is straining to overcome him and each other. The characters we sympathize with most are the two young women who are presented at the beginning of the story as an unscrupulous con artist pretending to be a handmaiden and a her rich and naive mistress. Moviegoers will be pulling for them, or at least one or the other of them, to find love and victory over cruelty, shame, men in general, and the old sleazeball. But will love ever find a way?


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