Movie Review – Assassin’s Creed

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EXPECTATIONS: A videogame film adaptation that finally breaks the videogame film curse.

REVIEW: The majority of videogame films are, for a lack of a better term, complete tosh. From catastrophes like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and most of Uwe Boll‘s filmography to films that are close to viewer satisfaction like Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children and Ace Attorney, the reputation of videogame films is not something you would proudly put on a pedestal.

So when Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed was announced to be made into a film, I admit that I had zero expectations whatsoever. Granted, I have never played the games before, but upon discovering the incredibly talented cast and crew (which most of them made the fantastic Shakespeare adaptation, 2015’s Macbeth), my expectations went up. So do they manage to break the so-called videogame film curse or will the film just end up in the critically maligned dung-heap?

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The film starts off during the Spanish Inquisition, with the Assassin’s Creed (consisting of Aguilar de Nerha and Maria, played by Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed) taking a vow to get a certain artifact called the Apple of Eden, which is known to have powers that can stop violence and aggression in the world. They must obtain the artifact swiftly before the Templar Order obtains it for their unknown deeds.

Cutting to the present day, we see Callum Lynch (also Michael Fassbender), a criminal who is about to be given the lethal injection (that’s not a euphemism). He is then rescued (or revived?) by Abstergo Industries, which just so happens to be the present-day version of the Templar Order, headed by Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter, Sophia (Marion Cotillard).

Callum is then forced to participate in the Animus Project and relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, to investigate the whereabouts of the Apple of Eden in exchange of his freedom. But during the experiments, Callum begins to understand and inexplicably immerse himself to his ancestor to the point that Alan and Sophia might have bit off a bit more than they could chew.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Does the film break the videogame film curse? Absolutely not. The storytelling is incredibly baffling, the action scenes are perfunctory and uneventful and the exposition is overwhelming to the point of absolute tedium. Hell, many of the story elements don’t make any sense.

For example, the Animus is portrayed as a machine that locks on to the participant to allow mobility within a circular room. So when the participant is running straight during the past, where is the participant going during the present? And this applies for tall heights as well. How high is too high when the building of the present day is quite limited?

It’s not even fully explained if Callum died during his sentencing or he was rescued before he got the injection. How do the people at Abstergo know where and when Callum in the Animus end up to become Aguilar in the past? There are so many illogical inconsistencies and plot holes that if the film was a bulletproof vest, it would be destroyed and mangled beyond recognition.

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Well, the sheer talent of the film absolutely try their best with the crummy script and cardboard cutouts substituting as characters. Michael Fassbender really tries to tap into the essence of his character(s), but he only succeeds in showing his own charisma and star power, instead of giving anything memorable that could’ve come from the script.

This can be due to the fact that main characters in videogames are in fact ciphers; basically proxies of the players that they can put themselves into to experience the story. But this is a film, not a videogame.

Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane LabedBrendan Gleeson; how the hell did they end up in this film? All of them struggle valiantly to give life to their characters and only Cotillard ends up with an arc that actually has some impact and that is only due to her performance. Much like the viewers, the cast were probably all present due to the involvement of rising director, Justin Kurzel. Even with films like Snowtown and Macbeth, he can’t even save this mess.

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The action scenes, which are the biggest selling point of the film, are incredibly over-edited, sanitized and shaky to the point where it is blatantly obvious that the film is sucking up to the teenage crowd to spend their money. The games were already made for people older than 17 years of age, so why doesn’t the film get made the same way? Oh that’s right, the almighty dollar, of course. There is little impact, little suspense and especially little fun be had.

To be honest, I actually fell asleep during the first action scene, since it was just so ho-hum. It also doesn’t help that we know that Fassbender’s character will survive due to the fact that Fassbender himself announced that the story is a part of a three-film arc, so there’s no stakes whatsoever. What happened to making films that were so good that people want more; instead of making feature-length commercials for future sequels and spin-offs?

But the biggest problem with the film is the storytelling. The pacing is all over the place, with exposition scenes either going way too fast (in explaining the Animus) or way too slow (in explaining the connections with Callum’s past and the present). The editing is so choppy, that it kills the little suspense the film could have earned.

The premise is interesting within of itself, but the execution would leave one incredibly puzzled. There’s even a joke in the film when Fassbender actually says “What the fuck is going on?”. Nothing else in the film is more amusing, self-aware and meta than that statement.

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With so many flaws, there are some positives. Besides the insanely committed and overqualified cast, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw makes the film look epic in scope (similar in 2015’s Macbeth) during the scenes set in the past, but can only do so much in the scenes set in the present. The scenes set in Abstergo actually reminds me of the lab scenes in Fantastic Four (2015), and no, that is absolutely not a compliment. The musical score by Jed Kurzel also adds a sense of credibility but like the rest of the crew’s work, it can only go so far.

Another videogame film adaptation, another epic fail, I’m afraid. As if the story of the film doesn’t do that already, it seriously boggles the mind that the film can assemble so much talent and yet achieve so very little. Creedy Assassin Assassin’s Creed is a disappointment on almost every level.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast try their darnedest to give the film credibility

The production values are good

CONS

So many plot holes and illogical inconsistencies

The storytelling is all over the place

The action scenes do not thrill or excite

The pacing is incredibly haphazard

Too much exposition, which results in tedium

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams, Ariane Labed, Callum Turner, Brendan Gleeson, Essie Davis, Denis Ménochet
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenwriter: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Michael Lesslie

Worst Films I’ve Seen In 2016

I cannot believe that it is almost the end of the year already, and yet somehow, I cannot wait for it to end. With all the deaths, political fails and other massive misfortunes, I thought it would be quite fitting to start off with the worst films that I saw in 2016 before I proceed with the best. Bear in mind, I did not see every film this year and if any of these choices offend you in some way, it probably means you’re more unfortunate than I am. No Adam Sandler affiliated films on my list.

Anyway, here are the worst films that I’ve seen (in no particular order). BEWARE OF SPOILERS and COURSE LANGUAGE. Now bear in mind, the films on the list are disappointments as well as travesties.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: Skiptrace, Kickboxer: Vengeance, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, My Beloved Bodyguard, The Magnificent Nine, Thanatos Drunk, Time Raiders

1. ME BEFORE YOU

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Quite possibly the most morally repugnant and most infuriating film of the year. Emilia Clarke gives the most annoying performance which makes you question whether she is the disabled one, not Sam Clafin. And the horrific ending.

The disabled were right, the film is downright offensive in its portrayal of the male lead as well as his actions. I mean, despite nurturing parents, a loving girlfriend and stacks of wealth, if you can’t rock out with your cock out, what’s the point of living? Yep, that’s the message of the film, folks. Jeez, I’m starting to get an aneurysm just writing this paragraph.

 

2. SUICIDE SQUAD

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Sloppy, boring, overlong, abrasive, cliched, I can go on about this film. With the wonderful trailers leading up to the film, I was excited but man, the film was a disaster. Inconsistent performances came up more annoying than anything else as well as the incredibly simple plot told in an unnecessary convoluted manner.

Don’t get me started with the plot holes such as excessively applying protective measures on a dangerous artifact and yet placing the other dangerous artifact out in the open as a fucking paperweight. DC? More like BS.

 

3. ASSASSIN’S CREED

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Despite the bad reputation of videogame film adaptations, I actually had hope for Assassin’s Creed. Even though I haven’t played the games, the film had director Justin Kurzel at the helm and with the incredibly overqualified cast (Fassbender! Cotillard! Irons! Gleeson! Rampling! Labed!), I was pulling for it.

But I was let down…into the dark abyss. Incredibly tedious, boring and filled with poor directing/editing choices, Creedy Assassin is another entry in the dungheap, that is the pile of videogame film adaptations.

Read the full review here.

 

4. THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

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Quite possibly the most controversial entry on this list. Considering the critical acclaim the film had received, the film just felt so relentlessly average and incredibly boring. The direction and storytelling were all over the place, whether it was the rushed development of the characters, the action and even its tone. Is it a musical? Is it an adventure?

Even a shocking moment involving a character’s death felt laughable since we barely know who that character was before it died. And the scene involving Kaa made me fall asleep. I thought the film would improve on the second viewing but it only just confirmed my thoughts: it’s just another cure for my insomnia.

 

5. GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

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With all the SJW’s, the sexists and the controversy, I wanted this film to be good. But I found it really disappointing and unfunny most of the time. The plot was so poorly drawn out that it had more potential to be funny than the entire cast. I absolutely loved the cast, but even they are subjected with a poor script and awful attempts at improvisation. Queefing, really? This may be man-splaining but feminism is not male-hating and every male in this film is either a fucking idiot (like Chris Hemsworth), a coward or an asshole.

Which includes the piss-poor so-called villain who is so anonymous that I can’t even remember his name or his motivation. I honestly want a sequel to this film just so that they can try again with the same cast. What a shame.

 

6. THREE

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Hong Kong director Johnnie To is a man whose work I enjoy a lot. Whether it was a crime flick, a rom-com or an action movie, I’m there to watch, and I was anticipating his latest. But man, it was a huge letdown. The majority of its demographic aren’t doctors or cops like in the film, but I’m definitely sure they’re not fucking idiots either.

Incredibly illogical and unbelievable (even for Johnnie To), sloppily executed and downright stupid, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. There’s a scene where a robber tries to break his neck to kill himself, but he has the neck brace on. Yes, this actually happens.

Even the supposed highlight action scene in the climax was so badly executed, you can tell that the extras are pretending to act in slow-action instead of being shown acting in slow-motion. And the god-awful CGI (How can we see so much blood and yet the hospital stays so clean?) and green-screen just add to the trainwreck. There’s a scene where we see a patient with a CGI-shaven head. Yep.

 

7. ZOOLANDER 2

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So much celebrity cameos, so little humour. It is mind-boggling to believe that this is the sequel we got with all that time and all that talent involved. What I did not expect from this film is to be annoyed and the hipster character annoyed the living shit out of me. The film literally becomes more watchable when Will Ferrell shows up and kills the fucking hipster.

When that happened, I stood up from my chair and cheered till my throat was sore. So I give the film credit for that, but it was too little, too late. The cast try their best like the film, they just end up dead on arrival.

 

8. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN

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Another jungle movie, another letdown. When the best thing in your movie is Samuel L. Jackson essentially playing himself, you know your film has problems. How the filmmakers sideline Margot Robbie with a damsel-in-distress role (Yes, she is one despite saying she’s not) is just plain stupid.

And stop giving Christoph Waltz roles where he reprises the same damn Hans Landa routine over and over again! The film has flashbacks, referring to the original story and even that is more interesting than the film we have now. Just go back behind the bushes, Tarzan.

Read the full review here.

 

9. A CHINESE ODYSSEY III

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Why do people keep on making sequels and spin-offs to Stephen Chow films that do not have him in it? It’s just a recipe for disaster. Flirting Scholar 2, Forbidden City Cop 2, Shaolin Girl and finally A Chinese Odyssey III just proves my point. Despite being dragged into the cinema by a certain someone to watch this film, I thought it can’t be too bad like his last disaster, Kung Fu Cyborg. Little did I know.

I knew from the first second the film started, I knew I would hate this film. The humour is incredibly unfunny, the actors are completely incapable of extracting humour and Jeff Lau once again squeezes the leftover juice from the classic films he directed to little effect. The delivery of the jokes is so assaultive and insistent that it’s almost as if the filmmakers forgot that jokes were meant to be funny, not just present. And the incredibly dated pop culture references include Avatar and Michael Jackson. Jeez.

Returning actress Karen Mok looks horrified to be there just like Christian Bale was in Terminator Salvation.

 

10. BOUNTY HUNTERS

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What do you expect from a movie when it can’t even live up to the basic expectations of the title? There’s no bounty and the main characters don’t hunt shit. Almost all of the characters are incredibly annoying (save for Fan Siu-wong) and the humour is so goddamn stupid that even infants would cover their eyes in embarrassment. There’s a joke in the film where one of the main characters seduces a maid by pretending to have diarrhea.

We’re supposed to believe that these metrosexuals are Interpol agents. Some of them don’t even look like they can handle the recoil of a gun, much less taking a bullet. And the villain himself. Oh, my God. He is so bad that you can see the make-up line on his face that makes his neck noticeably bare. Hell, my pubic hair has more menace than he does.

Movie Review – Allied

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EXPECTATIONS: A film too old-fashioned for its own good.

REVIEW: Robert Zemeckis is a film-maker that has both enthralled me and frustrated me. For the most part, his films can be exciting, fun and incredibly well-told, like the Back to the Future films, Cast Away and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  On the contrary, his films at worst, can be quite corny and indulgent. Films like What Lies Beneath, his motion-capture films like The Polar Express and even the majority of his last film, The Walk are examples of that.

So when I heard that he was making a spy thriller that is reminiscent of the classic film Casablanca, from a script written by screenwriter Steven Knight, who wrote great films like Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, I was psyched. And with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as icing on the cake, it sounds like it would be a sure-fire hit. Does Allied live up to its potential?

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Brad Pitt stars as Max Vatan, a Canadian intelligence officer who is sent to Casablanca in French Morocco to assassinate the German ambassador. He is then teamed up with Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who had escaped from war-torn France after her resistance group was defeated and killed. The plan is to pose as husband and wife as a cover-up until the actual date of the party where the ambassador is going to be. But during that time, the two gradually grow close and they are later both swept up in a sea of lies, secrets and deception that could put both of their lives at stake.

Like all of Zemeckis‘ films, they all look fantastic and have fantastic production values. The cinematography by Don Burgess is incredibly smooth and glowing with some great use of CGI that gives the film a sleek look that is very appealing to look at. Adding to that appeal is the costume design by Joanna Johnston, which is nostalgically striking. The musical score by Alan Silvestri is surprisingly a bit post-modern in its approach but it works, although it can be a bit intrusive at times during dramatic scenes.

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The actors certainly hold up their end of the bargain, with Brad Pitt and especially Marion Cotillard giving stellar performances. Pitt is convincingly stoic and world-weary and certainly looks the part of a debonair spy. Later in the film, he is also convincing when his character starts to emotionally open up as well as his character being anguished due to the fact that his wife may not be who she appears to be. This may not be his best performance in his so-called World War II trilogy (consisting of Inglourious Basterds and Fury), but it is still a good addition nonetheless.

As for Cotillard, she is the best asset in the film. She brings a lot of depth to her character of Marianne, while also pulling off the sensuality and allure of her character with aplomb. It is exactly those two traits that bring Pitt‘s character out of his shell and the two are good together as well as keeping the audience guessing about her character’s motives.

Nothing is more prevalent about the two and their shared chemistry like in the scene where the two make love in a car during a sandstorm. Although the leads are likable and worth caring for, they do not elicit the passion needed to make the romance truly blossom; leaving a bit of an emotional hole, where the heart should be.

The supporting cast are actually a bit wasted with their thin parts, like Lizzy Caplan as Vatan’s sister, who is written as an blatantly obvious lesbian but Simon McBurney is fantastic in his small role as the spy hunter; same as Jared Harris as Vatan’s superior and Matthew Goode in a surprise cameo.

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The storytelling is a bit of a letdown considering the talent involved. While the plot does unfold neatly enough, there are scenes where Zemeckis just overdoes the cliches (of the films Allied is meant to be referencing) with such blunt force, that the film becomes laughable at times. Some of it is definitely intentional (like the use of coarse language), but there are scenes that were clearly meant to be serious, but never feel that way; like a scene where Marianne is giving birth during an air strike.

But none of the cheesiness and corniness will matter negatively in the way the ending does. No matter how you analyze it or how it was built up on, the ending just comes across as anti-climactic and it will be a real letdown for some.

The talent involved really should have made Allied a fantastic film, but the final result only comes out as an entertainingly average experience. Still, we’ll always have Marion Cotillard.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Good leading performances, particularly from Marion Cotillard

Fantastic production values

Good storytelling and script from writer Steven Knight

CONS

Anti-climactic ending

Underused supporting cast

Scenes of corniness and cheesiness

SCORE: 6/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney, Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Betts, Marion Bailey, Matthew Goode
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriter: Steven Knight

FIVE Reasons why I love The Handmaiden

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For those who are well-versed to Asian cinema, Korean director Park Chan-wook is one of the world’s finest directors. His composed visual style, copious use of dark comedy, his extraction of beauty out of the most controversial subjects and his way of getting out fantastic performances from his cast, he’s clearly earned his sterling reputation. And with films like Oldboy, Thirst, Lady Vengeance and others, we have grown to admire and enjoy his contributions to cinema.

Referring back to my overwhelmingly positive review, I said that during the screening that I attended, I heard so many legs crossing during one of the sex scenes of the film, that it made me give out a huge smile on my face. That alone made the film the most fun I had this year. But there are so many other reasons why I absolutely adored this film from beginning to end. Hold on to your seats, it’s going to be a steamy ride.

1. The actresses

This is the first time that director Park Chan-wook has worked with an entirely new cast that he’s never worked with before. But that obviously didn’t stop him or hinder him on getting fantastic performances out of them.

Chosen from 1,500 other applicants, newcomer Kim Tae-ri is a revelation as the titular character, Sook-hee. The film starts off in a serious fashion, during the times of Japanese-occupied Korea and Sook-hee sees families being split apart, and it makes her sad, hinting the audience that the film would be a serious and grim experience. But once the plot is revealed, the film cuts the crap and characters are finally revealed. Sook-hee’s introduction is fantastic, as Kim portrays Sook-hee’s naughty and feisty side with aplomb, paying off with some very funny moments.

Other scenes where she pulls off her comedic chops is surprisingly, during the steamy sex scenes. The sense of wonder, amazement and excitement is hilarious to watch, as well as easily relatable. But the real surprise is her dramatic chops. Like in the middle-act twist where Sook-hee realizes she was the mark in the plan all along, Kim handles the scene like a pro, being very convincing in feeling betrayed and possibly teetering towards insanity.

Next is Kim Min-hee. Impressive in the anti rom-com Very Ordinary Couple yet wasted in the thriller No Tears for the Dead, she finally gets to sink her teeth (pun definitely intended) into the meaty role of Lady Hideko. Whether it’s to portray the character’s curious or duplicitous side, Kim shows both grace and composure throughout. And just like Tae-ri, she also reveals her real motivations and desires and it is electrifying to watch. Seeing her taking control of the situation or sharing astounding chemistry between Tae-ri, the two actresses are the main reason why The Handmaiden succeeds. Winning both Best Actress and Best New Actress at the Blue Dragon Film Awards just proves that.

  1. The actors

Although the actresses are the main attraction to the film, that doesn’t mean that the actors are falling far behind. As the greedy and arrogant Count Fujiwara, Ha Jung-woo is clearly having a lot of fun. Whether he’s gleefully eating a peach or unintentionally showing his bare-ass, he plays a character that the audience will love to hate. Compared to his roles like in The Berlin File and the films he’s done with director Na Hong-jin, it’s refreshing to see him in such a role where he can let himself go.

As for Jo Jin-woong, he plays the deviant Kouzuki, the so-called uncle of Lady Hideko. Playing a role much older than his actual age, Jo portrays Kouzuki in an extremely creepy manner that makes his scenes with both young Hideko and Lady Hideko disturbing, particularly when the scenes are set in his sex dungeon, complete with sex dummies. But when his character is eventually revealed (his character has no goddamn clue about sex), his acting becomes amusingly petulant and needy, leading to some very funny moments in the final act.

  1. The use of dark comedy

Whether the story involves themes of revenge, ultra-violence, incest and other taboo subjects, director Park Chan-wook never holds back on the dark comedy, and here in The Handmaiden, he goes all out with it.

Knowing that the source material (Fingersmith, by Sarah Walters) is ripe with potential pulp out of its lurid, prurient and controversial themes, Park extracts character-based humour out of its story like the naivety of Sook-hee during the sex scenes or the arrogant attitude of Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) conveyed by a simple action of eating a peach and especially in a scene where Hideko is committing suicide and Sook-hee stops her from doing so.

The film isn’t even above the more bawdy and raunchy humour, as Sook-hee is forced to grab Fujiwara’s penis as he is boasting about his motivations of the plan, leading Sook-hee to angrily resist and make fun of his penis size. It is a lot funnier than it sounds and the actors are game to the proceedings.

And of course, there’s leg crossing from deviant men of an insane degree in scenes where Lady Hideko reads sex stories like Jin Ping Mei, a very popular Chinese story of lust and revenge. The audience in the screening I attended reacted the exact same way during the sex scenes. That’s the magic of cinema, people.

All of the humour that is present in the film and the game actors make The Handmaiden Park’s funniest film since the vampire tale Thirst, which also explored themes of lust and prurience.

  1. The production values

One thing that you can always count on in a Park Chan-wook film is that it will look amazing on the big screen. The cinematography by longtime collaborator Chung Chung-hoon is so beautiful, sumptuous and ravishing that you’ll want to live in the world of the film, despite the disturbing things that happen.

The production design by Ryu Seong-hie compliments the look of the film very well, looking very specific to the time period of the 1930’s. And don’t get me started as to how he made the settings for Kouzuki’s chracter, including the basement and the sex dungeon. What was amazing that some of the settings were rendered with seamless CGI, thanks to visual effects supervisor Lee Jeon-hyoung and his team.

The musical score by Jo Yeong-wook stirs the emotions proficiently during the dramatic scenes and is quite reminiscent of great period stories and ditto for costume designer Jo Sang-gyeong, who’s collaborated with Park on some amazing costumes, like the headgear for I Am a Cyborg, But That’s OK and the fantastic costumes for the titular Lady Vengeance.

  1. The skewering of sexual politics

With a film having a story such as this, it’s a bit of a touchy subject as to how the filmmakers handle the subject of sexuality, since it is a major theme in the film. Handling it too tastefully, the audience will think that the film lacks passion. Whereas handling it too pruriently, the audience will think that it becomes exploitative, adding fuel to the flame that is known as the male gaze.

The way Park Chan-wook handles the sex scenes is that he tries his best to focus on the faces of the characters, making sure that the sex scene is not just a story point, but a turning point for character development and the chemistry between the actresses. It also conveys the epiphanies that the characters discover, which is that they fully become independent on making their own destinies, without any reliance on the men in their lives.

The shots never linger on their body parts for too long and sometimes relies on mirror reflections. At the climax (pun intended) for the sex scene, the characters hold hands while they complete their session, representing a sense of unity and strong development in their relationship.

Alongside the actresses, the production values and direction, what makes the sex scenes special is the humour. During the intimate sex scenes, the characters do something that normal intimate sex scenes rarely do: The characters talk about what they are doing. The commentary from the characters about what they are doing is realistic, amusing and again confirms the great chemistry between the characters. Kim Tae-ri, in particular, conveys a sense of wonder and bedazzlement that it comes off as hilarious. There’s even a shot of Tae-ri that comes from the POV of Min-hee’s nether-regions, which again, shows the humour as character-based.

Whether you see the film’s sex scenes as either exploitative or empowering, there’s a delicate balance of prurience and the puritanical that the sex scenes actually advance the story, instead of just providing eye candy.

What is also worth noting is that unlike the female characters, who eventually grow and become independent with their lives, every male character is held down to their vices (Fujiwara with money and Kouzuki with sex) and it is because of them, they end up in their inevitable fates. At least Fujiwara goes out on his own boastful terms, taking Kouzuki with him.

Conclusion

The Handmaiden is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen this year that had me thrilled, amused and awed in equal pleasure. Can’t wait for Park’s next project and I hope it’s going to be just as amazing! Legs crossed! Fingers crossed!