The Handmaiden Blu-ray Review
The Handmaiden's Tale
Park Chan-wook's exquisite epic mystery drama, The Handmaiden infuses Hitchcockian twists with gothic style, and his own trademark sensuality.Shot with exquisite attention to detail, and further defined by renowned Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's (Oldboy, Thirst, Stoker) unabashed freedom of sexual expression, The Handmaiden is a distinctive and atypical erotic psychological period mystery piece split into three chapters the first two of which are, given the overall near-three-hour duration of the superior Extended Cut, individually, almost feature-length. The intertwined stories told revolve around a curious household in a Japanese-controlled part of Korea, where a decadent group of rich individuals sate their desires. A young handmaiden insinuates herself into this household, becoming intimately close with her mistress, whilst the mistress herself is seduced by a visiting count. However, nobody is who they seem and, as the film, and further chapters unravel, everybody has a dark past behind them.Released in its truncated Theatrical Cut, The Handmaiden already ran at 146 minutes, adding a further 22 for the superior Extended Cut, which offers further depth and resonance to the already epic tale. Park Chan-wook may not have made his masterpiece here, but he's certainly crafted an impressive period affair that's captivating, impeccably acted, and thoroughly unpredictable. Even after the first act twists (which, themselves, would individually fuel a single Western production), the film continues to evolve in new - but totally organic - directions, a far cry from its loose origins as an adaptation of the novel Fingersmith, and something which manages to blend the director's clear Hitchcockian influences with palpable sensuality and brazen sexuality, all set within an almost Gothic period backdrop in Japan-controlled Korea. Suffice to say, it's utterly unique.
Picture QualityThe Handmaiden comes to the UK in two editions, both from Curzon/Artificial Eye, and both Region B-locked. This, the complete set, boasts two discs - the Theatrical Cut available as a separate release, and the superior Extended Cut. Shot digitally using the Arri Alexa XT Plus, the 2.8K source material was rendered using a 2K Digital Intermediate, and makes for a stunning 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation whichever cut you watch, with both presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen.
This Blu-ray delivers a wondrous visual presentation
Given the lavish period setting and stunning primary mansion and grounds it's set in, the film is afforded plenty of material to work with, and boasts a striking amount of fine detail and rich texturing, bringing the vast libraries, gorgeous gardens and intricate artwork to life. There's little room for softness here, with skin textures and clothing weaves on prime display, and the set is a living, breathing component contributing significantly towards the image's visual opulence.
The colour scheme is natural and authentic, but also surprisingly rich and vibrant, with vivid greens in the garden and deep wood browns in the interiors dominating the piece. Black levels are deep and solid, although there's plenty of haze and shadow to play with in the piece, giving it yet further impressive layering and texture. It's a wondrous visual presentation.
Sound QualityBoth cuts are also afforded fabulous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks in the film's original languages; almost equal parts Japanese and Korean (inventively, the two languages are differentiated in the accompanying subtitles by yellow subtitling for the Japanese words and white for the Korean). It's worth noting that the films default playback to the LPCM 2.0 track.
The gorgeous image boasts a tremendous aural accompaniment
Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across the frontal array, afforded prioritisation throughout the affair, which relies upon a sometimes whimsical score which playfully follows the mood for the majority of the piece, knowing just when to change up the tone and deliver more sweeping, sombre or seductive flourishes to reflect the dramatic, dark or erotic intentions. More importantly, it keeps the surrounds engaged and helps craft a suitable atmosphere within which the story can play out. Effects are well-observed, lapping up the creaking floorboards, hissing snakes and haunting wind blowing through the trees. All the finer ambient touches are brought to life, and the dynamics are impressive, with plenty of separation across the array. It's a tremendous aural accompaniment, demo in every respect and largely reference too.
ExtrasThe two disc set also provides a few additional extras over the single-disc release, as both discs included here provide different supplemental features beyond just the mere addition of a second, superior cut. The Theatrical Cut includes an hour-long Q&A session with director Park Chan-wook, who talks at length about how he was inspired to become a filmmaker, his style and techniques, and his intentions behind this production. Although obviously not as long as a full Commentary, it's arguably more accessible (with English questions and translated Korean answers) and provides almost as much background information. The first disc is rounded off by the Trailer.
Both discs provide different supplemental features beyond the additional of a second, superior cut.
The extras included on the Extended Cut disc are more slight, but still welcome, with a brief Making-Of Featurette, some footage from the Cannes Premiere, a short Introduction by the three main leads (the Lady, the Maiden and the Count), and a tiny Interview snippet with director Park Chan-wook briefly discussing what brought him to this film.
Blu-ray VerdictThe Handmaiden is utterly unique
Artificial Eye's Region B-locked UK Special Edition 2-disc Blu-ray release of The Handmaiden is clearly the set to own, boasting a superior Extended Cut as well as the original Theatrical Cut (which is the only one available separately), as well as a few new extras exclusive to the additional disc. Video and audio is stunning, and the extras are pretty impressive too (particularly if you count the superior cut), leaving this a must-have set. Clearly filmmaker Park Chan-wook intended this to be his magnum opus, and whilst it doesn't quite match up to some of his early masterpieces, it's utterly unmissable for fans of his work.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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