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The Handmaiden DVD Review

The Handmaiden (2016) movie poster The Handmaiden

US Theatrical Release: October 21, 2016 (South Korean Release: June 1, 2016) / Running Time: 145 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Park Chan-wook / Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook (screenplay); Sarah Waters (novel Fingersmith)

Cast: Kim Min-hee (Lady Hideko), Kim Tae-ri (Sook-Hee), Ha Jung-woo (Count Fujiwara), Cho Jin-Woong (Uncle Kouzuki), Kim Hae-sook (Miss Sasaki), Moon So-ri (Lady Hideko's Aunt)

Buy The Handmaiden from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

To the surprise and disappointment of some, The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi in its native Korean) is not an Academy Award nominee. The awards prospects of this film from director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker) took a huge hit when South Korea opted to submit The Age of Shadows instead of it for consideration in Best Foreign Language Film. But some fans still held hope that this could be the rare foreign film to crash a technical category like the Hong Kong movie The Grandmaster did two years earlier.
Tuesday morning's announcements revealed it was not to be, but it's not like Handmaiden hasn't already won rave reviews and dozens of awards, including Best Film Not in the English Language from my own Online Film Critics Society, which also gave it one of our ten Best Picture nominations.

The Handmaiden invites comparisons to Akira Kurosawa's landmark Rashomon with its approach of telling one story from three different perspectives. The story involves Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a pickpocket from a family of forgers and con artists, becoming the personal maid of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), an orphan lady who has inherited great wealth. Using the name Tamako, Sook-hee is appointed Hideko's maid on recommendation from Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo).

The "Count" has a nefarious plan to marry Hideko and then have her committed to an insane asylum, leaving her great wealth all to himself. Sook-hee is to grease the wheels and get Hideko to fall for the Count, but instead the two ladies get into some pretty heavy kissing, petting, suckling, and scissoring.

Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) woos Lady Hikdeo (Kim Min-hee) in "The Handmaiden."

The second perspective belongs to Hideko, who has been abused by her twisted uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong) since youth. She meets the Count, who pitches her a plan that would offer her an escape from her hard life.
Finally, the film's third and final act gives us the Count's point-of-view, revealing he has his own tormentor.

The Handmaiden is steamy, explicit, and uncompromising. Its appeal lies as much in the way it tells its story as in the story it tells, the presentation supplying depth like Memento, The Usual Suspects, or the aforementioned Rashomon. Twists and turns abound, giving the film an exhilarating power to disarm and mislead. The same incident presented a first time takes on entirely different meaning the second time and that generates some intrigue.

I cannot pretend that the story truly hooked me in any of its three incarnations, but then I'll admit its historical and cultural implications, far from universal, did not register or resonate with me. There is an undeniable artistry to the production, which is loosely adapted and dramatically reworked from Sarah Waters' 2002 Victorian England novel Fingersmith. But as with the other Park Chan-wook film I saw, Stoker, there seems to be more style than substance here.

In a decision that only adds to fans' disappointment, Amazon Studios' sometimes home video partner Sony brought the film to DVD but not Blu-ray on the same Tuesday it came up empty from the Oscars.

The Handmaiden DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (Korean)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $25.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Instant Video


While the detail, vibrancy, and sharpness of 1080p are missed, The Handmaiden's 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is plenty satisfactory judged by the standards of DVD's standard definition. The English subtitles are clean and grammatically sound (English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also offered), while the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix presents the original Korean soundtrack in fine fashion.

The Handmaiden's Region 1 DVD main menu is conspicuously missing a Bonus Features listing.


Sony's DVD includes no bonus features whatsoever, not even trailers for other Amazon Studios properties.

The static, piano-scored main menu features four characters looking straight ahead.

No inserts accompany the plain silver disc inside the insert-less black keepcase.

Lady Hikdeo (Kim Min-hee) and her handmaiden Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) are closer than they let in as they share a bed but face opposite directions here.


There is plenty about The Handmaiden that you may find compelling. I wish I could say I did too, but despite the interesting way it tells its story three times from three very different perspectives, this long Park Chan-wook film did not do much for me beyond a technical level.

Buy The Handmaiden from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed January 27, 2017.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Amazon Studios, CJ Entertainment, Moho Film, Yong Film.
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