Undoing Male Fantasies and Narrative Reliability in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden

in Screen Bodies

In this article, I analyze Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (Ah-gassi, 2016) by addressing its puzzle narrative and complex interactive dynamics as embodied and affective categories. In particular, I employ Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the chronotope together with Giuliana Bruno’s work on media theory and Steffen Hven’s notion of the embodied fabula to show how the film, in all its aesthetic complexity, enacts a creative and transformative experience based on the continuous subversion of the power dynamics I describe. Furthermore, I demonstrate how this semantic and experiential reconstruction couples viewers’ alignment with the two main characters in their rebellion against patriarchal power and obsessive male fantasies. Ultimately, then, in this article I aim to connect the experiential and affective engagement of the film with a critical reading of power dynamics as ecologically situated structures to be challenged and revolutionized through a creative process of becoming.

Screen Bodies

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Experience, Perception, and Display