Park Chan-wook

Film Bouquets 2017

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All things considered, 2017 was a pretty good year for film – so much so that we’ve decided to award twelve bouquets – and it still means leaving out some excellent movies. Here, in order of release, are our favourite films of 2017.

Manchester By the Sea

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This bleakly brilliant film got the new year off to a great start. Powered by superb central performances by Casey Affleck and (especially) Michelle Williams, it was a stern viewer indeed who didn’t find themselves reduced to floods of tears.

Moonlight

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An affecting coming-of-age movie chronicling the life of a young black man as he gradually came to terms with his own sexuality, this film, of course, beat La La Land to the best movie Oscar in unforgettable style. It absolutely deserved its success.

Get Out

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A ‘social thriller’ that, despite it’s serious message, enjoyed a lightness of touch that made it a joy to watch. There were shades of The Stepford Wives and this witty calling card from director Jordan Peele suggested that cinema had found a hot new talent.

The Handmaiden: Director’s Cut

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Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece, loosely based on Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith, took us into the Korea of the 1930s and kept us spellbound for nearly three hours. Lush cinematography, a genuine sense of eroticism and fine performances from an ensemble cast – what’s not to like?

The Red Turtle

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This stunning animation from Michael Dudok de Wit, co-produced by Japan’s Studio Ghibli,  exemplified the best artistic traditions of east and west – a beautiful allegory about life and love and relationships. A delight to watch and a story that we couldn’t stop thinking about.

Baby Driver

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Edgar Wright’s adrenaline-fuelled chase movie ticked all the right boxes – a great soundtrack, breathless pacing and an intriguing central character in Ansel Elgort’s titular hero. It all added up to an unforgettable movie experience.

God’s Own Country

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This extraordinarily accomplished debut by writer/director Francis Lee played like ‘Brokeback Yorkshire’ but had enough brio to be heralded in its own right. Beak and brutal, it told the story of two farm hands slowly coming to terms with their growing love for each other. Magnificent stuff.

Mother!

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Darren Aronfsky’s absurd fantasy alienated as many viewers as it delighted, but we found ourselves well and truly hooked. From Jennifer Lawrence’s great central performance to the film’s bruising finale, this was definitely a film not to be missed – and one of the year’s most discussed films.

Blade Runner 2049

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We waited thirty years for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s infamous film and I’m glad to say it was worth the wait – a superior slice of dystopian cinema that dutifully referenced the original whilst adding some innovative ideas of its own. Denis Villeneauve handled the director’s reins expertly and Hans Zimmer’s score was also memorable.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Another piece of eerie weirdness from director Yorgos Lanthimos, this film also managed to divide audiences, but for us it was a fascinating tale, expertly told and one that kept us hooked to the final, heart-stopping scene. A unique cinematic experience.

Paddington 2

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Yes, really! The sequel to the equally accomplished Paddington was an object lesson in how to effortlessly please every single member of an audience. Charming, funny and – at one key point – heartbreaking, this also featured a scene-stealing turn from Hugh Grant.

The Florida Project

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Think ‘Ken Loach does Disney’ and you’re halfway there. Sean Baker’s delightful film might just have been our favourite of 2017, a moving story about the tragic underbelly of life in contemporary America. Brooklyn Prince’s performance as six-year-old Moonee announced the arrival of a precocious new talent.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

The Handmaiden: Director’s Cut

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The term ‘masterpiece’ is often used but I’ve rarely seen a film more deserving of that word that Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. It’s a sumptuous, sensual and occasionally audacious slice of melodrama, a loose adaptation of Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith. That book, of course, is set in Victorian London, but here the story is transposed to Korea in the 1930s, when the country was under Japanese occupation. To say that the adaptation works well, would be an understatement. It’s an inspired idea that plays like a dream.

Sookee (Tae-re Kim) is hired to be the handmaiden to reclusive Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) and the two women quickly form a powerful bond, one that develops into a full-blown relationship. To say any more about the plot would do the film a disservice; suffice to say, that some way into proceedings, we flash back to scenes we only glimpsed in the film’s opening moments and are given more information – Sookee’s employment, it turns out, is not as innocent as it might at first appear. From this point, Park Chan-wook seems to delight in constantly pulling the rug out from under us. No sooner have we begun to accept a new tranche of information, then we are obliged to rethink it as earlier scenes are revisited with the addition of a few small points we missed out on first time around. It’s a brilliant technique and, despite this being the extended Director’s Cut, nearly three hours in duration, the film never loses momentum, but holds you spellbound for its entire run.

Those of a prudish persuasion should be warned that The Handmaiden is an unashamedly erotic movie – there are explicit sexual scenes here that fully test the boundaries of that 18 certificate, but it’s important to say that this aspect of the film never feels prurient – indeed, the relationship between Sookee and Hideko is perhaps the most joyful and ‘pure’ aspect of the story. Contrast it with the conduct of the male protagonists: the cunning and deceitful Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Hah) – who weaves a merciless tangled web in order to enrich himself – and the frankly repellent Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo) – a man who has devoted his life to the pursuit of printed pornography and who has made his niece, Hideko, do unspeakable things from childhood; the true love the women share is something to be celebrated.

And this sensual quality goes further than just the sex scenes. It’s in pretty much every frame of the lush cinematography, the gorgeous period costumes, the musical score. Korean movies are currently making waves across the film industry, but The Handmaiden has everything it needs to create a real tsunami. And a masterpiece? Oh, yes, most assuredly. If this comes to a big screen anywhere near you, don’t miss it.

5 stars

Philip Caveney