I, like a lot of Americans I’d guess, am mostly familiar with Park’s work through his awe-inducing Vengeance Trilogy; I also caught up to his English language debut, Stoker, and found it sadly lacking. But Park is back with . . . no, no, I won’t say that. Because auteur Park is back to making striking, startlingly beautiful and brilliant movies that only he could make, but this film isn’t like the Vengeance Trilogy at all. The film is, at its base level, a Hitchcockian thriller. A con artist seeks to seduce a rich heiress; in order to gain, special intelligence on how his campaign is going, he sends a young protégé into the heiress’ home as a new maid. The film then spirals off into a strange, compelling, haunting world that just keeps unfolding. In keeping with the Hitchcock connection, much of this film is taken up with sexual obsession & desire. It’s incredibly graphic in the sexual department and not in the grim way of a lot of art films; there are two scenes here that are right up there with the hottest sex scenes I’ve ever encountered. Park’s usual violence isn’t in much evidence; there’s only one scene, near the end, that features his particularly graphic style of body mutilation. He’s after a more elegant, psychological kind of thrill here and he delivers for sure. There are plot twists and character reveals and tense moments of suspense and really wonderful character work. The script is a masterwork, leaping through time in surprising ways, pulling the rug out just when you’re settled onto what you think is the right track. The performances are superb, particularly from the central duo. Min-hee Kim is the elegant lady & Tae-ri Kim is the tentative young maid and they both really stay with the script as it shifts their characters about. These roles require incredible precision; these are performances within performances and they never put a foot wrong. I really can’t recommend this film highly enough. It’s almost two-and-a-half hour running time flies by, though the pacing never feels rushed. Park remains one of the most incredible vivid stylists in cinema history and he plays with things in really interesting ways. There’s a scene where there’s a completely incongruous item present but none of the characters interact or acknowledge it. I thought it was some sort of a surrealist, symbolic touch and I had just about worked out what it symbolized when Park cuts to a flashback that explains why the object is there (it is literally there in the scene, not as a symbol, but actually as itself) and why none of the characters care about its presence. These are the moments you live for in a Park film and he delivers in spades. And then, just as it’s coalesced into a great character-based thriller/romance, Park has one last twist for you. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s a huge plot twist at the very last second, because there isn’t and I don’t want you looking for it and then being disappointed. But there’s a strange moment near the very end that really kind of knocked me out and made me go back and re-examine the entire film in terms, not of plot or of character, but of the way I had been thinking of it. It’s hard to say without spoiling it; I’d love to talk about the ending with someone who’s seen the film. Anyway, it’s a magical, transporting film; I can’t recommend it highly enough. 4 stars.
tl;dr – Park has created another visually stunning, character based masterpiece, indulging in slow pacing and elegant designs; artful, beautiful, evocative – another one for the ages. 4 stars.