Last night I witnessed cinematic genius. An evoking erotic tale of passion, betrayal, perversion, and ultimately what it means when love knows no bounds. Below is my fan review. I'm no film critic and I'm also very easily impressed when it comes to movies. However this film majorly exceeded all my expectations. Also I speak remotely frankly about sexual content here, so if that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps sit this one out!
Very spoiler-ish! Proceed with caution!
Firstly, I was very happy to share this film experience with someone I knew would appreciate it as deeply as I would, someone very dear to me whom I love very much, Celinè. Its tale of forbidden love and tangled webs, yet in the end love will always prevail no matter what difficulty stands in your way. We saw the film at Sunshine Cinema in Soho, a humble little theater that carries indie and foreign films. It was really an evening never to forget.
Instead of giving a play-by-play of this film, I really want to speak about what really sets this movie apart from many others that have erotic themes that are centered on that of women's sexuality.
Not only was this movie absolutely stunning to watch, with its glorious scenery, amazing costumes, and spellbinding mixing of European and Asian (Korean and Japanese) aesthetics, it played against the tune that you usually see in a lot of Western films (and perhaps many other Eastern films) that use women as props of sexual fantasy. Women who have sexual relationships with other women usually are given no agency over their bodies, and their intimacy is often directed for the male gaze and for shock value. Like "look we are so edgy, women having sex!" types of things that are overdone and boring. For many years, I've sought out film, animation, manga, and other media that does not play into these selfish tropes that ignore how real it is for a woman to love another woman as deeply as she could a man.
The Handmaiden did just that. With its ultimate plot twist that had me on the edge of my seat, and worried for a moment that I had been queer-baited into yet another story of a lesbian woman losing out to a cruel and unloving man, watching the love of her life swept away forever, I was absolutely floored when this movie took all my expectations and blew them out of the water. It also eliminated any fears I had going in about halfway through the film. These women went against all odds and found themselves passionately involved with one another in a twist of fate that you won't see coming until the very end.
We witnessed real love last night. Love that is timid at first, perhaps shameful and worrisome. Queer women often have to question their agency, question whether or not their love for another woman is real or allowed. Suppressing their feelings or having them suppressed by others around them. I know all these feelings firsthand, and this movie really spoke to my very soul. Though I personally identify as bi/pan, for many years I wondered if I had been broken and if my feelings were real or allowed. I've personally learned in many ways, that I can love any way that I so please. This movie really set those feelings into my heart.
There are very clear differences between heterosexual love and intimacy and homosexual love and intimacy, and besides the obvious physical differences that I'm sure I don't need to explain, I've found that it really does go far beyond that. Not that one is better than the other, I'm not here to make statements of division, but I think there is much to learn about passion and intimacy between all orientations and sexual expressions. The erotic scenes in this film were not your "classic" -look at these two beautiful women having sex- for all the men to watch, and to carelessly objectify them as if they are just bodies to consume. I always get that vibe and the wrenching in my stomach when lots of other media does this, including obviously pornography (which is primarily consumed by male viewers, and only small studios cater to the female gaze.)
The scenes in this movie made you feel something completely different. Whether you are straight or somewhere in between, everything felt so real, not staged, not forced. You could feel true passion emanating from the movie screen. I never thought that this was possible, especially in a scene depicting two women.
I was deeply moved to say the least.
Sometimes, the odds against you only makes the end result that much more exciting.
This movie wasn't about in-your-face sex off the bat. That's what really made it so entrancing. You were left imagining and wondering how far things would go with every slow and provoking moment.
Also the two leading ladies (Sook-Hee played by Kim Tae-Ri and and Lady Hideko played byKim Min-Hee) are just gorgeous to say the least! They are just the loveliest paring and their love felt so genuine I would swear to you they were real lovers (Are they? Because that would be amazing.) I was completely fixated on them.
I loved how the both of them thought the other was innocent and naive, when in fact both ladies were remotely corrupted by those around them and their toxic influence. But in the end, it made them all the wiser to prevail and triumph, and realize that what they had for another was worth the ultimate risks.
They were caught up in an elaborate scheme of greed and perversion orchestrated by a money-loving con man and a lecherous old uncle. Boy, if this movie didn't make you distrusting of men, I don't know what would! Not that you should (#notallmen, haha), as both men depicted in this film were just downright skeevy! The creepy old uncle Kouzuki, forced young Hideko into erotic readings and displays for an underground "sex club" (like Fight Club, just a little more twisted.) And Sook-Hee was manipulated into conman Count Fujiwara's exploits to seduce and elope with the young heiress Hideko to have her fortune.
Watch the movie to see how it all unfolds in detail, but I just have to say, these lovely ladies knew exactly what they were doing when it came to intimacy.
Or perhaps they did not?
I think they both surprised each other in how naturally things unfolded. That in of itself is the real beauty of it all.
A woman knows how she wants to be loved, and in turn can easily love another with the same passion they would like to be loved themselves. This my friends, is the key to long lasting and satisfying encounters, regardless if they are long standing, exclusive, varied, or otherwise.
I was really astonished by this film and I beg everyone to see it, no matter if you have an alternative sexual expression or not, I think it's well worth it. We plan on purchasing the DVD as soon as it is released because this type of cinematic glory is rare and to be cherished deeply.
We also are very interested in reading "Fingersmith" by Sara Waters, which this movie was roughly based upon. Any manner of media detailing and displaying the lives and inner workings of LGBTQA+ romance, and validating it without vulgarizing it or perverting it, please continue to create them and share! If anyone has suggestions of media that do this, feel free to drop them in the comments as we are very intrigued by them.
Thank you all for reading, please support this film by going to see it in a specialty theater near you. Showings are limited and dwindling, so please hurry!
All photo credits to Magnolia Pictures