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  • Writer's pictureDorsa Sajedi

Genre: The Handmaiden (2016)

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon

Questions to ask:

Can a specific image or frame from a film define its genre?



I have chosen this shot as a demonstration of the genre 'Romance'.


The Handmaiden is a take on Sarah Water's novel Fingersmith, but instead of being set in Victorian England, it is set during the 1930s when Korea was under Japanese rule. It focuses on Sook-Hee, a pickpocketer who takes on the job of a handmaiden for an extremely wealthy woman, and Hideko, a woman who is confined to a big mansion by her abusive uncle who grooms her to read inappropriate literature texts to rich noblemen.

The narrative is structured with such intelligence that as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. You first think one is betraying the other, and then the other is betraying them, but then you find out that the man is the one that ends up being the one who is tricked. As a female viewer, it’s gratifying to see the women win over the men. Hideko and Sook-Hee start off as two individuals with their own struggles, low in power in their own way, and then, they build themselves up and end up tricking the uncle, the count, and even the passport officer. You can tell that they start to fall in love with each other. The romantic and sexual tension between them is always there. In this film, men are portrayed as the problem in the equation, which in a patriarchal society, is extremely refreshing.


The leading genre in this film, as a whole, is romance as its focus is on the development and struggles of Hideko and Sook-hee's relationship. But, the reason why I chose this film is that it has several genres that I feel overlap with each other. My reasoning behind choosing this shot specifically is that it delivered a sense of gratification to myself as the audience, and I feel that it follows conventions that belong to the romance genre. What makes this shot unique to others in the film, is that I feel that with its placement in the film being towards the end when a conclusion is finally reached, it's portrayed in that soft-and-fluffy feeling way that we tend to get from the happy endings in romance films.

These elements consist of the following.

With the composition and framing of this wide-shot, we only see them. This is important because the film is about them, their relationship, and how they managed to overcome their struggles which are another element that is frequently presented in romantic films. In terms of setting, we are presented with the ocean, and the beginning of a sunset thus the pink highlight on the clouds. The colour pink, which is normally associated with love and comfort, adds to the already warm feel that the soft colour palette constructs. What furthers this is the natural lighting coming from the left which highlights the actors' body language and facial expressions; we see the one on the left touching the other, smiling and looking content, which builds a very affectionate atmosphere.

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