DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
A true conman is patient and takes his time. Park understands this and that is why he is able to spin this gorgeous, deceitful web of erotica and intrigue to such a great effect.
I went into this blind and that really is the only way to approach it. There are few things more delightful than a storyteller wrongfooting you every chance he gets and actually succeeding at it brilliantly, something that could only ever work because I knew next to nothing about it. But even if I had, there is just no escaping the masterful pacing and plotting of the Handmaiden. The way the slowly unfolding plot reveals its secrets is what makes the daunting 145 minutes running time fly by with the greatest of ease.
But to niche this film as a con artist film, would be selling it short immensely. The central line of deception serves as a vessel to convey the essential differences between how men and women view sex and sensuality. The Handmaiden is at times an exquisitely sensual film, something Park heightens by contrasting it with banality and crudeness. There is a constant tug of war between dominance and tenderness. One could argue that Parks treats this aspect with too much simplicity, but by contrasting it so sharply he actually manages to find both a lighthearted humour and a deepfelt sincerity in it. And by making it sincere the sometimes elaborate sex scenes never become gratuitous or cheap.
What is so bizarre about this film is that it is tonally all over the place, but Park still manages to find a cohesion in his film that is rather impressive. There is pretty strong drama, interjected with dark, almost horror elements and laced with practically all facets of comedy, from the physical to the darkest shades of humour. Park's cast effortlessly transitions from one style to the next and therefore never making this the tonal mess it for all intents and purposes should be.
If you're familliar with Park's filmography then you'll know his talent to frame scenes is considerable. But in the Handmaiden he truly outdoes himself. There is not a single scene in this film that doesn't have something to gawk at. With breathtaking cinematography and a meticulous attention to detail, Park and his team have created one of the most beautiful looking films of 2016.
The Handmaiden is a stunning film, but above all it is one unlike any I've seen before. It is that quality, the effortlessly enjoyable plot, the sincere subtext and the craftsmanship involved that makes this one of the best films of the last year.