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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Handmaiden aka "Ah-ga-ssi" [Blu-ray]

 

(Chan-wook Park, 2016)

 

Also a Hong Kong Blu-ray available:

 

The Artificial Eye 'Special Edition' Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film

The Theatrical Cut Blu-ray is also available from AE, as a stand alone edition, without the Extended Cut:

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Moho Film

Video: Mongrel Media / Sony Pictures  / Artificial Eye Curzons

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' / Region 'B' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:24:54.143 / 2:25:25.717 / Theatrical: 2:25:45.445 / Extended: 2:48:27.764

Disc Sizes: 39,364,110,447 bytes / 33,454,882,747 bytes / 46,734,596,469 bytes / 44,364,535,554 bytes

Feature Size: 37,489,248,576 bytes / 32,555,735,040 bytes / 38,861,316,096 bytes / 42,500,505,600 bytes

Video Bitrate: 29.96 Mbps / 24.91 Mbps / 25.99 Mbps / 25.98 Mbps

Chapters: 20 / 16 / / 12 / 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray cases

Release date: January 24th, 2017 / March 28th, 2017 / August 7th, 2017

 

Video (all three):

Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio Korean and Japanese 2741 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2741 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

DTS-HD Master Audio Korean 3316 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3316 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

Theatrical:

LPCM Audio Korean 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio Korean 3012 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3012 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Descriptive Audio:

LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

Extended:

LPCM Audio Korean 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio Korean 3577 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3577 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English, French, none (yellow for Japanese)

English, English (SDH), Spanish, none

Theatrical:

English, English (SDH), none

Extended :

English, none

NOTE: on the Artificial Eye Blu-rays, Japanese is also used in a yellow font (as per the Canadian edition) with white for the Korean BUT not if English (SDH) is chosen - then it is all white font (see samples below)

 

Extras (both):

• None

Theatrical Disc:

Interview with Director (59:51 - Korean with translator)

Trailer (1:55)

Extended Disc:

Making of (5:07)

• Cannes Premiere (1:32)

• Cast Introduction (0:26)

• Director Interview (1:44)

 

Bitrates:

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - SECOND

3) Artificial Eye (theatrical) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - THIRD

4) Artificial Eye (Extended) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

Description: Three years after his English-language debut Stoker, award-winning filmmaker Park Chan Wook returns to Korean cinemas with the highly acclaimed erotic thriller The Handmaiden, which earned him his third Palme d'Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival following Old Boy and Thirst. Starring Kim Min Hee (Right Now, Wrong Then) as a wealthy Japanese heiress, breakout newcomer Kim Tae Ri as a maid, Ha Jung Woo (Assassination) as a fake count and Jo Jin Woong (A Hard Day) as the heiress's uncle, the film is an adaptation of Welsh author Sarah Waters's notable lesbian crime novel Fingersmith about the love between a rich heiress and her maid.

In 1930s Korea, Lady Hideko (Kim Min Hee), the sole heiress to her family fortune, lives with her uncle (Jo Jin Woong) in a luxurious mansion. In an attempt to seize the heiress's wealth, a swindler (Ha Jung Woo) poses as Count Fujiwara and hires pickpocket Sook Hee (Kim Tae Ri) to become her maid. Though Sook Hee is given the mission to convince Lady Hideko to marry Count Fujiwara, she finds herself sexually attracted to her new mistress.

 

 

The Film:

The art of the tease is rarely as refined as in “The Handmaiden.” Set in Korea in the 1930s, this amusingly slippery entertainment is an erotic fantasy about an heiress, her sadistic uncle, her devoted maid and the rake who’s trying to pull off a devilishly elaborate con. The same could be said of the director Park Chan-wook, whose attention to voluptuous detail — to opulent brocades and silky robes, luscious peaches and creamy shoulders — turns each scene into an invitation to ooh, aah and mmm. This is a movie that tries to ravish your senses so thoroughly you may not notice its sleights of hand.

It’s not for nothing that one of its heroines, Sookee (Kim Tae-ri), is a pickpocket, though that’s getting ahead of her story. It opens with Sookee weepily saying goodbye to some adults and wailing children, their gushing matched by the torrential rain. She’s off to work for Lady Hideko (a sensational Kim Min-hee), a pale beauty who lives with her tyrannical uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), a collector and purveyor of art and rare erotic books whose darting tongue has turned black from his ink pen. The realms of his bibliophilic senses are suggested when a client asks if one of his books is by the Marquis de Sade. “It’s Sade-esque,” the uncle says, all but winking at the audience.

Excerpt from the NY Times located HERE

A beautiful, disturbing Korean adaptation of Sarah Waters's bestseller' 'Fingersmith'

Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a proper Dickensian orphan: raised by a Fagin-like madam on the streets of Seoul, she’s an experienced thief and con artist. So when smooth huckster Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) needs an eager young crook to impersonate a lady’s handmaiden as part of a scam he’s planning, Sook-hee steps up. Her mission: to encourage the innocent, unworldly Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) to disobey her cruel uncle Kouzuki (Jo Jin-woong) and run away with the dashing Fujiwara – bringing her fortune along with her, of course. And then Sook-hee starts falling in love…

The cinematic equivalent of drinking three glasses of champagne in the bath, ‘The Handmaiden’ is a film to luxuriate in. Park has always been a visual master – even his infuriating American debut, 2013’s ‘Stoker’, had that going for it – but he’s outdone himself here. Waters’s labyrinthine plot is handled with the utmost care, and the characters – particularly the seemingly fragile Hideko – are beautifully sketched and performed.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Handmaiden comes to Blu-ray from Mongrel Media in Canada. the film was shot using the Arri Alexa XT Plus. The image quality is quite attractive - kudos to the film and art direction. Colors are often stunning - bright and rich. Detail is impressive and contrast exhibits healthy, black levels. This 1080P Blu-ray on a dual-layered disc with a very high bitrate does a solid job of exporting this film's extremely pleasing palette.  It is in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. We may compare to another BD release one day but as it stands this Blu-ray transfer of The Handmaiden looked fabulous on my system.

 

NOTE: This is the theatrical cut - not the 22-minute longer extended version.

 

NOTE: The Sony is also the theatrical cut although I understand that the UK Blu-ray from Artificial Eye (we will post link and compare when available) will be the extended cut of the film.

 

Image quality is quite similar, technically less robust than the Canadian transfer, it is a shade brighter. I'd suspect that the Mongrel media is slightly more accurate to the theatrical appearance and may look a smidgeon superior, in-motion, depending on your system.

 

Firstly, the Artificial Eye includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film - each on a separate Blu-ray disc. What is in the Extended version? Well, in Korea and around the world there was such a strong reaction to the film that and extended cut was created with some of the footage left on the cutting room floor. In Korea it has been available as a IPTV, pay-per-view TV accessibility and was, also, shown theatrically as well worldwide in some locations. Park has stated that the finished film, shot over 67 days, was 3 hours and 3 minutes long. This extended version is 2 hours, 48-minutes - so, roughly, 23 minutes of extra footage from the theatrical cut and about 1/4 hour less than the complete assembled footage. The Handmaiden has plenty of subtle detail and it is probably best not to know the complete differences between the theatrical and extended before viewing the film although some have dubbed the extended as 'more romantic' and some may identify an alteration in the timing of the flashbacks. I, personally, think it may be superior in the longer cut but it may also be that I get more out of the film each time I see it and the longer cut adds detail and bonding with the characters to a greater extent than the theatrical cut.

 

Predictably, the image quality is very close on all four 1080P transfers. The AE is exactly the same as the Sony and I see no significant differences. Both AE's Theatrical and Extended cut transfers are also similar with, approximately, the same bitrate. No mistakes, no flaws, digitization, DNR nor blemishes. Perfect.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

NOTE: Japanese language is subtitled in yellow, Korean in white on the Canadian Mongrel Media Blu-ray

 

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - SECOND

3) Artificial Eye (Theatrical) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - THIRD

4) Artificial Eye (Extended) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - SECOND

3) Artificial Eye (theatrical - SDH) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - THIRD

4) Artificial Eye (Extended) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - SECOND

3) Artificial Eye (theatrical) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - THIRD

4) Artificial Eye (Extended) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

1) Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - TOP

2) Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Mongrel Media use a DTS-HD Master in 5.1 surround, 2741 kbps (24-bit) in the original Korean and Japanese languages. Not much in the way of separation - it seems the transfer can easily handle everything the film requires in The Handmaiden. There are optional subtitles in English or French - NOTE: Japanese language is subtitled in yellow, Korean in white. My Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked.

 

In the audio, the Sony is more technically robust but my ears could notice no difference at all. A key point is that the Mongrel Media has the Japanese language subtitled in yellow with the Korean in white, but the Sony is all white (this may be a key point for the story an some purchasers) and offers optional Spanish along with English and English (SDH). It is also region 'A'-locked.

 

Like the video, the audio is of the same high quality. For both Blu-ray discs, AE give the option of a robust DTS-HD Master for the 5.1 surround and a linear PCM for a stereo option - both 24-bit. The score, and film's theme music, is credited to Yeong-wook Jo (J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, Public Enemy, I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, Old Boy, Thirst) but there is more with Tae-ri Kim singing The Song at the End of the Century, Ladies are the Dolls of Maids, So This was the Scent etc. plus Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major K 622, II movement. The latter sounding highly impressive. The AE Theatrical cut disc offers a 'Descriptive Audio' option. A key point is that the AE, like the Mongrel Media edition - in regards to the subtitles - use a yellow font for the, brief, Japanese language and a white font for the Korean. Except, on the theatrical UK disc, IF the SDH option is chosen - then it is all white (see sample above). There is no SDH option on the 'Extended' transfer (just standard English as an option) and it uses the yellow/white as a differentiation between the languages - which may be significant for some viewers in regards to the interpretation of the story. The AE Blu-rays are Region 'B'-locked.     

 

 

Extras :

Sadly, no extras - making this a true bare-bones package.

 

Unfortunately, no extras at all on the Sony as well.

 

Artificial Eye add extras on both discs. On their theatrical disc there is an hour-long interview with director Chan-wook Park. He speaks in Korean with translator describing what he says afterward. It makes the interview longer but some cogent details are articulated, making it worthwhile. There is also a trailer. On the 'Extended' Blu-ray disc, there is a short 'Making of', a Cannes Premiere snippet, a very brief cast introduction segment and a 2-minute director interview with English subtitles.

 

Mongrel Media - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

Sony - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 

 

Artificial Eye (Theatrical) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 

Artificial Eye (Extended) - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Wow. The Handmaiden is quite the film experience. It is beautifully structured and paced - visually it is brilliant eye-candy and of course it is contemplative and erotic. It's kind of a clinic in filmmaking. It is, without question, the best film I have seen this year. I can't wait for my second viewing.  The Mongrel Media Blu-ray is bare-bones but provides a strong a/v presentation. It is $ 27.07 CAN - making it $20.77 US at the writing of this review. I'd give our highest endorsement at that price. Don't hesitate.

 

I'd lean to the Mongrel Media release which seems a bit more polished but the differences will be marginal to most purchasers. I look forward to the extended version from AE. A powerful film that is hard to forget. Don't miss it.

 

Obviously the Artificial Eye has the most desirable package including both cuts, pleasing a/v transfers for this stunning film and some supplements. The more I watch The Handmaiden, the more I like it and will always choose the 'Extended' version experience when revisiting this brilliant film. It has pushed me, in recent weeks, to explore more South Korean cinema on disc. This has become one of the best packages of the year and we can strongly endorse. This is one of those releases that justifies the purchase of a Region FREE BD player. This UK Blu-ray package has our highest recommendation! 

   

Gary Tooze

January 31st, 2017

March 17th, 2017

July 22nd, 2017

 

Also a Hong Kong Blu-ray available:

 

The Artificial Eye 'Special Edition' Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film

The Theatrical Cut Blu-ray is also available from AE, as a stand alone edition, without the Extended Cut:

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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