aka 아가씨 aka Agassi 2016 Written by Park Chan-wook & Chung Seo-kyung
Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Directed by Park Chan-wook
If you aren’t a fan of Park Chan-wook by now, I’m not sure what it will take to convince you to get out and see The Handmaiden. But if you are one of the millions of his fans around the globe, you know that Park Chan-wook is a force of awesomeness in the movie community, and The Handmaiden continues that tradition of awesome movies from an awesome guy. Basically, run, don’t walk, to the theaters and check out a wonderful psychological thriller. There is a trio of amazing performances by Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, and newcomer Kim Tae-ri. Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith is moved to 1930s occupied Korea, where it still manages to work in a culture of repression and male dominance.
Kim Min-hee is heiress Lady Hideko. Hideko is isolated and lorded over by her cruel uncle, Kouzuki, who covets her money and title. Her mother died in childbirth, and her aunt was found hanging in a tree when she was a child. Hideko never leaves the family estate and her only contact with outsiders is a weekly reading of erotic literature to exclusive guests. If you are familiar with the concept of that literature, some of it is ridiculous, basically the dime store erotic trash novels peppered with flowery poetry and filled with imagery that at times stretches believability that the writers have even interacted with people who have sex. Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki has designs on becoming a Japanese nobleman despite being neither of those things and Hideko’s money and title his avenue to obtain them. Kouzuki rejects his Korean heritage in an admiration for the occupying Japanese, but his true passion is rare books, specifically the aforementioned erotic literature.
Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, a gifted pickpocket and thief embedded as a handmaiden whose job it is to help convince Hideko to fall for the fake Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo — Assassination). Fujiwara has a knack for making forgeries and is just the thing Hideko’s creepy uncle needs, as he can’t bear to part with any of his rare books, but is perfectly fine with selling off faked replicas of them. This gives Fujiwara the access he needs to scope out Lady Hideko and enact his plan of seduction and asset seizure, enabled by Sook-hee as Hideko’s new handmaiden. And then it is seduction time. Continue reading →
2013 Written by Wentworth Miller
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is an amazing film that is only a few steps shy of perfection. But it is those final steps that make up the bulk of my complaints, forever sealing Stoker away from classics territory. The story of a teenage girl’s journey to womanhood just as a mysterious uncle enters her life plays on much of the angst we all experience as youth. It also plays on a lot of Hitchcock tropes, right up to having the mysterious uncle that the niece finds the murderous truth about be named Charlie. Holy Shadow of a Doubt, Batman!
My biggest beef seems like a slight thing, but Stoker involves what is essentially the sexual awakening of the India Stoker character, but both the writer and director are men. This isn’t a huge thing by itself, but it reveals itself in a million tiny tiny things that just add up to put Stoker a bit off from masterpiece status in my eyes. Mia Wasikowska obviously had some input on her character and how she acted, but everything is based on the templates laid down by Park and Miller. Perhaps I’ll soften a bit on this after a few years, Stoker being very worthy of revisits.
Park Chan-wook’s films have gained him a cult following throughout the world: Joint Security Area, Thirst, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, and The Vengeance Trilogy. Stoker is his English-language film debut, one of three cult Korean directors who had English language films debuts in 2013 – Kim Jee-won with The Last Stand and Bong Joon-ho with Snowpiercer are the others. Park Chan-wook took the great tradition of Korean film transitions with him. The scene where the hair turns into the field of grass is one of the best shots ever in film. Park succeeds in providing excellent tension building thanks to some masterful editing, and continues to ratchet up the drama as the story gets more disturbing. Screenwriter Wentworth Miller was largely known for acting until this point, starring in the Prison Break series on Fox. His script for Stoker wound up on the Black List, which lead to its eventual development. It all results in a terrific thriller.
The narration by India Stoker is done as a whisper, giving a more intimate feel, and the aura of us hearing a family secret. Secrets weave the web of the world of Stoker, the Stoker family having their own skeletons in the closet Continue reading →