Agassi (The Handmaiden)
Park Chan-Wook surpasses all expectations with his sublime film Agassi (The Handmaiden). A passionate story shot with indisputable talent, Agassi is not only a gripping tale that touches all the right chords, but also a remarkable lesson in filmmaking on the power of images and sound; it shows off (with every right) how a director can play around with the audience through his storytelling. An impeccable mise en scène accompanies numerous shifts in time, the plot line twisting onto itself more than once and every time revealing a new face of the story.
Set in a Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1930s, thief and forger (Jung-woo Ha) involves his younger colleague Sookee (Tae Ri Kim) in a scheme to marry a noblewoman (Min-hee Kim) and strip her of her wealth. Employed as a parlour maid, Sookee sees her criminal intents waver as she gradually falls in love with her mistress. With a pervert uncle dooming on the house, an ardent passion develops in secret between the two women, forcing to choose between swindling or loving as the sexual tension never lets go. But that is only the beginning – or rather the starting point – of the first part of the film.
Reminding of another Cannes success, La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Colour), Park Chan-Wook’s picture has a very high erotic factor, containing very explicit sequences. Nonetheless, the Korean master never leaves behind his elegance, shutting down any taboo criticism with the perfect compositions of the sexual scenes.
The vast mansion where the core of the plot occurs is exemplary of the attention Park Chan-Wook has put into describing, subtly but impossible to miss, the blending of cultures and styles that characterised Korea at the time. The building combines Western, Japanese and traditional Korean architecture, clearly divided but allowing fluid movement from one to another as the events unfold. The same stands out from the characters’ array of outfits of all three styles. The informed eye certainly enjoys this mindful description of the historical context.
With Park’s distinctive savoir faire, at times Agassi approaches the horror film, with cinematic techniques that spark tension or suspense. Many shots have a cult-gory aftertaste, reminding of the director’s previous works. His latest flick confirms his finesse: sensual, intricate, elegant, but also engrossing and full of suspense, with a plot so solid it can be overturned and repeated more than once.
Agassi does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Agassi here: