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From visionary director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy and Stoker) comes The Handmaiden, a sumptuous and exhilarating period thriller inspired by Sarah Waters’ best-selling novel 'Fingersmith'.

Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, a young handmaiden named Sookee (Kim Tae-ri) is hired by Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a reclusive heiress who lives in a sprawling mansion under the watchful eye of her domineering Uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jinwoong). But Sookee harbours a secret: she has been recruited by Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a scheming con artist posing as a Japanese Count, to trick Hideko into entrusting him with her fortune. However, when Sookee and Hideko begin to develop unexpected emotions for each other, they start putting together a plan of their own.
(Taken from the PR.)

Video


This 1080/24p AVC encode of the The Handmaiden is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1. The film was shot digitally using the Arri Alexa XT Plus camera, which is evident in the sharp, clean visuals. As with all of Park's work, the film features exquisite set design and wonderfully camerawork. The Blu-ray renders all of this with strong detail, particularly in the close-ups, and does an admirable job of showcasing the varied colour palette while delivering strong contrast. Overall it’s a very strong visual presentation of a sumptuous feature.

Audio


The disc includes two audio tracks: Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Korean LPCM 2.0 Stereo. For some reason it defaults to the stereo track, which I don’t really understand given the film’s age, but I digress.. The Handmaiden isn't the sort of disc that most would use to wow their friends, but the lossless 5.1 track is very impressive. As with Park's other films the sound design is extremely inventive and nuanced, so while it may not offer the sort of pomp and bombast mustered up by your average action movie, it's still a very engaging aural experience.

Optional subtitles are included and conform to the theatrical use of different colours to differentiate between the spoken languages (yellow for Japanese, white for Korean). An English Audio Description track is also included in LPCM 2.0, along with SDH subtitles.

Extras


The solitary extra is the film's theatrical trailer, with the bulk of the bonus content being held back for the Special Edition release. I'm not a fan of this practice, so it's reflected in the scoring.

Overall


None of my local cinemas deemed The Handmaiden worthy of exhibition during its theatrical run, so it’s taken me quite a while to finally get around to watching it. I’ll admit to being somewhat underwhelmed by the first act, which seemed to follow a far more linear path than any of the director’s previous efforts, but as the story progressed I began to remember exactly why I’m such a big Park fan. I can’t reveal too much for fear of spoiling the experience for others, but suffice to say what appeared to be a fairly straightforward, albeit beautiful, period piece actually has a lot of depth and more than a few twists and turns. I didn’t find it as engaging or inventive as some of his work—and it lacks a real ‘what the hell’ moment as found in many of his previous features—but it’s still a very impressive bit of filmmaking and one that I believe will grow on me with further viewings. I was initially a little concerned that the fairly explicit sex scenes would be exploitative or gratuitous, but that’s not the case, and they are actually far less prominent than I had been led to believe. I’m now curious to see the extended version of the film for comparison purposes, even though I’m not entirely convinced that it would make for a more enjoyable viewing experience given a number of reviews I’ve read.

The Blu-ray release looks and sounds about as good as you would expect from such a modern, digital production, which is to say very impressive. Sound is similarly accomplished and should satisfy those who enjoy a more refined experience than is offered by the usual action fodder. The decision not to include any bonus content of note with this release is annoying, but not unexpected, as more and more we’re seeing distributors hold back the weighty content for their special edition releases. I’m not a fan of this sort of fragmentation though, so it’s reflected in the overall score. With that said this is still a worthy release of a fine film; one that can be picked up relatively cheaply from various online retailers if you aren’t bothered about the extended cut or supplemental material.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Handmaiden, The
 Handmaiden, The
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 Handmaiden, The
 Handmaiden, The
 Handmaiden, The
 Handmaiden, The
 Handmaiden, The


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