Director: Park Chan-wook.
One aspect I truly appreciated about this film was its ability to captivate me, even with its lengthy duration and historical setting. The storyline itself is intriguing, filled with unexpected (and some very expected) twists that kept me engaged throughout.
However, I found the characters, particularly the two male leads (Count Fujiwara and Uncle Kouzuki), to be rather one-dimensional and lacking depth. Uncle Kouzuki, in particular, was portrayed as an evil and detestable individual, yet his motives remained unclear to me. Thus, he posed little ‘real’ threat to Lady Hideko and her maid, making the sense of danger in the movie feel somewhat artificial. Additionally, I felt that the performance of Cho Jin-woong, who played Uncle Kouzuki, was subpar, and in my opinion, he wasn't well-suited for the role.
On a positive note, I liked the film's exploration of sexuality, presenting a wide spectrum of experiences. The depiction of Uncle Kouzuki's repressed and corrupt sexuality in a negative light contrasted with the emergence of queer sexuality between Lady Hideko and the maid, symbolizing emotional strength, love, and a united front against exploitative men.
From a cinematic standpoint, Park Chan-wook's virtuosic style shows throughout the film, even though at times it detracts from the immersion in the story and the characters. I found certain camera movements and editing choices to be distracting rather than enhancing the viewing experience.
To summarize, despite its flaws, "The Handmaiden" remains an interesting film to watch, although it falls short of the masterpiece status that many have bestowed upon it.
Verdict: 3 / 5 ★ - not bad but not great either.