Loosely based on Sarah Waters' 2002 Victorian crime novel Fingersmith (previously adapted for TV by the BBC in 2005), The Handmaiden relocates the story to the Japanese-ruled Korea of the 1930s and transforms it into an outrageously sexy yet curiously heartfelt thriller that is surely director Park Chan-wook's most accomplished work to date.
Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, the new handmaiden to mysterious Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). In truth, however, Sook-hee is a former pickpocket in the employ of phoney aristocrat Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a charismatic con-man with a plan to marry Lady Hideko before having her locked up in a mental asylum and making off with her fortune. But as Sook-hee's growing attraction to Hideko complicates matters and the story twists one way and then another, you're left wondering just who is seducing who in this smart and unpredictable story of betrayal and passion.
From the wonderful performances and gripping story to its meticulous construction in the edit suite and sumptuous production design, The Handmaiden is an astonishing piece of cinema that can somehow transform the act of filing down a tooth into the most sensual scene imaginable. And just like the narrative itself, Park Chan-wook's remarkable film is made up of myriad layers. Peel back all of the violence, deception and sex and at the core of The Handmaiden you'll find a touching love story that not only celebrates, but also empowers its richly-drawn female characters.
Picture: This Special Edition Blu-ray serves up two cuts of the film – the 146-minute Theatrical Cut and the 168-minute Extended Version – on two separate BD50 platters. More or less identical in terms of pure image quality, both discs' flawless AVC 2.40:1 Full HD encodes are packed with pixel info and texture, plus lush colours that really show off the film's lavish costumes and production design.
Picture rating: 5/5
Audio: The Handmaiden's Korean DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is involving and precise, making very effective of the full soundstage while eschewing largescale dynamic effects. Dialogue and music are perfectly resolved in the mix.
Audio rating: 4.5/5
Extras: Accompanying the Theatrical Cut are an hour-long Q&A with Park Chan-wook recorded at the London Film Festival and the trailer. Meanwhile, the Extended Version is joined by a five-minute Making of… featurette, footage from Cannes, a cast intro video and another brief chat with the director.
Extras rating: 3/5
We say: A stunning Blu-ray package for an outstanding piece of cinema.
The Handmaiden: Special Edition, Curzon Artificial Eye, Region B BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 4.5/5
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