The Handmaiden Is the Pick of the Week

There is a scene in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy that just might be the greatest fight ever put in a movie. It immediately made me a fan of the South Korean director. Oldboy is the middle part of the director’s Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance are the other two). All three ensconce themselves in perverse violence that will please even the most hardcore action fan, but that violence is never the point. Chan-Wook uses the unrelenting and incredibly crafted brutality to dig deeper into the soul’s of his characters and ponder man’s insatiable need to destroy.

He’s made a handful of films since the Trilogy, none of which have grabbed me in the same way, but with The Handmaiden, critics have come back to his side. Adapted from the 2002 Welsh novel, Fingersmith, The Handmaiden has switched the book’s setting to 1930s Korea when the country was occupied by the Japanese. In it, a Korean con artist poses as a Japanese count who is courting a rich Korean woman out of her inheritance. The titular handmaiden is his accomplice.

Apparently Chan-wook trades his usual knack for ultra-violence in for heavy doses of sex, romance, and chamber drama. If it’s as good as nearly everybody is saying, I’m ready to go with him.

I’ll be getting my copy soon and you can expect a review right here in these pages.

Also out this week that looks interesting:

Inferno: Tom Hanks once again stars as Robert Langdon, writer Dan Brown’s symbologist who races across the globe fighting madmen by deciphering codes left in the world’s greatest landmarks. This time he’s in Florence with Felicity Jones trying to stop Ben Foster from unleashing a global plague. The books have been consistently terrible (and yet I always read them) and Ron Howard’s adaptations haven’t faired much better (and yet again I always watch them).

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage: If you’ve ever seen Jaws, then you are familiar with this story as it’s the one Robert Shaw tells while he, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss try to one up each other while awaiting the big shark in their small boat. It’s a true story and one that would make for a great movie. Unfortunately, at least if you can believe most of the reviews, this Mario Van Peebles-directed Nicolas Cage vehicle is not even a watchable movie.

Sherlock: Season Four: I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great Sherlock and Martin Freeman is terrific as Dr. Watson. We missed this season as it aired on TV, and I’ll likely stream it somewhere before buying, but it’s nice to see it hitting Blu-ray so quickly.

Black Girl (Criterion Collection): The first film from African director Ousmane Sembene was made in 1966 and concerns a Sengalese woman who moves to France to work for a rich couple but soon finds the job is more slavery than enlightening.

The Vessel: Martin Sheen stars in this film about a village that was devastated by a tsunami ten years prior. It was directed by Julio Quintana and produced by Terrence Malick.

Mat Brewster

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