Watching The Handmaiden a second time I was able to set aside the intricate mechanics of the plot (which click gloriously into place like the soft humming belly of a Swiss watch) and focus in on the details, the lushly sensuous, sensuously lush details, oh my god what a feast. Even after two times I feel as if I've only scraped along the surface of what The Handmaiden has to show me.
But my favorite thing this time through this pervert's Merchant Ivory was a costuming choice - take note of how many times Hideko (the rich lady of the house) is outfitted in flesh-tones. Here a pair of leather gloves that you mistake for her hands; there, the long sheer neck of dress, only obvious once you're shown the line of buttons dotting up along her spine. Why... you'd think that Hideko is hiding something, or playing some sort of trick on us...?
It's the little things, so many little things, piled up and up and up and up, a mountain of details so intricate and fine-tuned that you stand back in awe at what Park Chan-wook has assembled - it shouldn't work! The Handmaiden should topple over in a heap of madness like the sinewy giants at the end of Clive Barker's story "In the Hills, The Cities." It is madness, but it is. It somehow is.
A second viewing brings eye-lines - who's looking at who, when are they looking at them, how are they looking at them while someone else is looking at them, or the other person. Where are they standing in relation to the other three people, and how is the camera caressing their body, and how does that caress compare to the caress in the previous frame. If an elbow is arched at forty-five degrees while a car leaves Shanghai traveling at twenty miles per hour, whose vagina is on first?
The questions shimmy out of the questions, like a snake shedding one skin attached to one skin attached to one skin, an endless unshedding, a trail of handbags and luggage, so refined and sturdy, in its wake. You've just got to run your fingers along it, and sip in your breath in small erotic sips. Somewhere a bell rings back from the future, and you pause, contemplate, self-flagellate. These kinky boots, laced up to heaven, are made for walking, running, fucking. All at once, and once for all.