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Film Review

The Handmaiden

Had to let people know just how good this fabulous film is but a busy week with no time to do a normal review. The micro version: Park Chan-wook, the great South Korean director (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) has just completed his latest, The Handmaiden. Adapted from the Victorian Gothic thriller, Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters (2002), set in 19th century England, Park sets his very Gothic film in 1930's Korea, during the Japanese occupation not long before WW II. Park expands the novel considerably, adding two major sections and greater complexity. A beautiful young pickpocket is groomed to be a handmaiden to a wealthy young woman, who is virtually imprisoned on her uncle's huge estate. The uncle is an obsessed book collector, especially of English and Japanese erotic books and prints. The handmaiden is part of a complicated plot by a master con man to steal the woman's inheritance. The story line is complicated, utterly unpredictable, and never less than thrilling.

The acting is exceptional, but it is the cinematography that is marvelous: lush and drop dead gorgeous. I have rarely seen a more beautiful film. A very strong erotic current runs through The Handmaiden, with a number of surprisingly explicit scenes of lesbian sex. The music is gorgeous, some of it quite operatic. It uses an unusual subtitle scheme: English, with two colors of text; white for spoken Korean and yellow for Japanese. I loved this extraordinary film and think it easily one of the best five I have seen this year. Trust me: you will remember The Handmaiden, for the right reasons. Should be a very strong contender for Best Foreign Film. It really deserves a full review (or several) but don't miss this on the big screen. Just opened at the Embarcadero, the Rafael, the California (Berkeley) and the Aquarius (Palo Alto). Running time: 144 minutes.

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