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Be warned that there is a bit of a controversy regarding the subtitles on this release. Due to the fact that both Korean and Japanese are spoken throughout the entirety of the film, in the theatrical release these two different languages were differentiated by the use of color. Korean was in White and Japanese in yellow. This is important because at some points in the film it is important to know what language is being spoken (at least for those of use that only speak English). For whatever asinine reason, Sony and Mongrel Media have decided to completely get rid of any indication as to what language is being spoken.
For those wanting the color coded subtitles present in the original theatrical US release check out the Canadian Blu-ray. It's Region A, has colored subtitles, and even sports slightly better picture quality.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from Korean director Park Chan-wook, who has previously brought us films like "Oldboy" and most recently "Stoker". Here he brings us a complex story (based on/transposed from British novelist Sarah Waters' "Fingersmith") of deception and greed, set in a sexually charged environment. Like the book, the film consists of three parts. If you can count on one thing of director Park, it is that he brings is movies is a very stylish way, sometimes at the cost of substance (see: Stoker). But let me comfort you right away: while here also the movie is very stylish, it never does so at the expense of the substance. It took me quite a while to figure out who is who, and what exactly is happening, as we see a number of scenes more than once, but from different perspectives. Very helpful (and crucial to understanding the movie) is that at the beginning we are informed that yellow subtitles indicate Japanese is spoke, and white subtitles indicate Korean. BEWARE: there are a number of explicit sex scenes in the movie reminiscent of "Blue Is the Warmest Color" (and causing the movie to be rated the equivalent of NC-17 in a number of countries). The two leading ladies, Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko and Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, are nothing short of outstanding. At one point, when someone is relaying a particular story about Lady Hideko, someone interrupts and says: "give more details! A story is all about the journey!", and it is a perfect metaphor for this movie: yes, it is quite long (2 1/2 hrs.) but the journey is so worth it.
"The Handmaiden" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and finally opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this weekend. I couldn't wait to see it. The Sunday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended quite nicely, given the time of the weekend and the length of the movie. Even if this doesn't play very long in theaters, this is the type of movie that hopefully will find a larger audience on Amazon Instant Video and eventually also on DVD/Blu-ray. If you are up for a top-notch foreign movie, you can't go wrong with this. "The Handmaiden" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
The plot will be a bit difficult and confusing to explain without giving key points away. Key points that are entirely more delicious when discovered naturally, as the film plays out shocking scene after shocking scene. It is a great example of masterful storytelling and it’s twisting duplicity keeps you engaged up until the very satisfying end. The circuitous, titillating plot left me wondering to know who is deceiving who and why. When I eventually found out, it was not entirely surprising, but wholly gratifying.
Although there was never a boring or dull moment on screen, some scenes and plot points were long-winded and perhaps carried on for far too long. However, as I watched, I eventually learned all of it was necessary and essential. Films such as these are a true passion project for all those involved in its making. The cinematic results prove that the director, the actors, the screenwriter and all those involved in its making, unquestionably love what they do and are very good at it. A solid 4.5 out of 5 and I highly recommend it.