Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"The Handmaiden" on Google Play, and my review

I mentioned on Twitter that the recent film "The Handmaiden" (아가씨) is up on Google Play right now. A Twitter follower mentioned that it's not available for him. I've got two Google accounts, one set for the USA and another for Korea, so out of curiosity I checked them both.

Different country-based availability

"The Handmaiden" varying availability on Google Play

1st image: the USA account. The film is listed but isn't available for purchase or rent.
2nd image: the Korean account, but set to English language. It's available to rent or buy in won.
3rd image: the Korean account again, with the language setting back to Korean. Available.
Maybe there's some licensing issues, or maybe they just think non-Koreans wouldn't be interested, at least not until subtitles are available. I don't know, but I think this kind of thing is silly. What if you're a Korean native speaker living in the US? This is why torrent sites are going to remain popular, and in fact it's already widely shared on Korean trackers, in multiple resolutions. But I know you only want to buy a legal, legitimate copy. Don't ask me how I saw it. Let's just say a quick search and about 10 minutes later it was somehow on my hard drive.

My Review

Here's my review of the movie. The biggest issue was that just so darn much of the movie is spoken in Japanese, so it was sometimes hard to follow along. There are Korean subtitles in those parts, but reading them was difficult at times. Overall I was able to understand basically what was happening. The details of the plot seemed kind of complex, but not so much that not grasping them really hurt the viewing. The visuals and acting are pretty good enough to fill in the blanks.

With all the hype I had expected the lesbian sex scenes to be raunchy or over the top, but I've got to say that in context they seemed to make sense and felt natural. I might be saying too much here but I thought the part where they're sort of teasing each other about what the man would do with her, which of course developed into that full on oral sex scene, seemed pretty believable. "Oh what if he does THIS to you! Or tries THIS! Or this! Giggle giggle!". The scissoring was pretty dramatic, but again, I felt like if you were following along with the development of their relationship and the lead up to each scene, it made sense. They certainly have a dramatic, emotional roller-coaster of a relationship, and for every hot lesbian sex scene, there were probably twice as many scenes of them misunderstanding or fighting or arguing. When you consider all the intrigue and back-stabbing intentions of the triangle between the two girls and the man (sorry, I'm trying not to give too much away if you haven't seen it), it all sort of fits. I actually felt pretty sorry for the Agashi overall. I was pretty convinced that I wouldn't want to be in her place. Well except for some of those bed scenes of course.

But you know what? And I might get hate for this, but it overall felt like a slightly above-average typical Korean drama movie, with the required topless fake thrusting sex scenes thrown in. Or did I somehow get an edited copy? Because I sure as heck didn't see any of the "juicy oral scenes" a friend promised. I mean let's get real, this isn't a porno, it's a legitimate major-release film. If you're watching it just in hopes of some female genitalia, you're going to be disappointed.

The ending was not what I had expected, and for some reason left me a bit disappointed. I don't know why I felt that way exactly, it just seemed sort of more cliche than I had expected. Although I have to admit I didn't really see it coming, so they did trick me there.

I know that was all pretty vague, but I don't want to ruin it for you. There's plenty of plot summaries online. Most of them seem to make it sound like some big shocking or heavy thing filled with sadism and shock, "liberating erotica" etc., but at the end of the day it definitely was a Korean movie. So, I don't know, before you write off the movie as just some sex scandal grab at publicity, give it a shot for the story, the acting quality, and the beautiful dreamy scenery. It's a costume drama after all but feels very accessible to a modern audience. I was at first curious to see it again later with the full English subtitles if they ever come out, but on the other hand, I think one viewing was enough.

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