Handmaiden: Alternate Extended Cut, The

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Brief Synopsis:
The Extended Cut with the early structure altered back to that of the Theatrical Cut.
Park Chan-wook’s BAFTA-winning 2016 romantic thriller “The Handmaiden” is a masterpiece of adaptation, transposing and translating the characters and actions of Sarah Water’s 2002 novel “Fingersmith” from Victorian England to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea with impeccable style and skill on display throughout.

As I suppose is the case for most people, I saw the Theatrical Cut (TC) first and was blown away; the Extended Cut (EC) available on home media adds nothing major but lets you soak in the film’s atmosphere for longer, the expert pacing leaving you feeling that no additional time has been spent (this is not a film where you end up checking your watch halfway through). The only change of any significance is that the shorter version provides backstory to the eponymous character much earlier on, letting viewers into the scheme sooner means that we better appreciate her actions throughout: the EC delays this reveal by another seventeen minutes to give a more distant perspective (I think of these correspondingly as the “popular” and “arthouse” approaches).

While this is a film that demands and rewards rewatching, technically rendering the whole project pointless, I find the former approach to be more satisfying even on repeat viewings. I also think that certain shared scenes benefit from being used as flashbacks in the TC to complement action and dialogue that has just played out, rather than being played detached in the EC. On back-to-back comparison I also realised that the EC removes some of Sook-hee’s voiceovers (spoilers in the EC’s case) and sections of the music, items that I miss. This edit is simply taking the EC and altering the earlier scenes (no changes at all after the first 44 minutes) back to how they were in the TC, losing about thirty seconds worth of footage (some transition shots and extended takes that have clashing audio) but nothing important.
Additional Notes:
For those unfamiliar with the film, THE 18 RATING IS THOROUGHLY DESERVED! Have to look away myself during the basement scene at the end, and also advise against watching in all but the most understanding of company!
Other Sources:
Both cuts sourced from Curzon Artificial Eye Special Edition blu-ray set
Release Information:
Editing Details:
EC used as a base, about 2 minutes worth of TC footage or audio alone is used to restore some elements lost in the EC and to smooth over scene transitions.

Exported Full HD H265 with 5.1 channel audio and burned-in subtitles (apologies to those who speak Japanese and Korean and would prefer them absent, may try “soft” subtitles in a future version).
Cuts and Additions:
• Moved extended scene at Sook-hee’s home into equivalent’s position in TC (removed the segments of the Count’s demonstration, the forged letter and Sook-hee being told about her mother scenes, those are put back into TC positions later), compared to TC we now just have the kimono lesson.
• Used TC from just after Sook-hee is first seen eating with the rest of the staff until Hideko says that she is not a good liar, preceded by a few seconds of the EC (identical shots at this point) to silence the voiceover corresponding to the TC scene that would have occurred just before. Now includes the forged letter scene as in the TC, overlaid an EC-unique overhead shot of the Count writing before he starts talking.
• Placed an EC-derived reaction shot of Sook-hee and Madame Sasaki to bridge TC and EC, fade out TC audio so music drops just after Hideko makes the aforementioned statement. Shot has a slightly shorter TC equivalent (showing Sook-hee bowing her head) that occurs a few seconds earlier, slowed EC version down to half-speed and cut off first half to make “new” shot (her head staying bowed the whole time).
• Cut out coin toss freeze-frame shots from EC that book-ended this version’s take on the reveal scene (Sook-hee at home, the Count’s demonstration, kimono lesson, forged letter and talk about her mother), goes straight from medium shots of Sook-hee throwing the coin to the Count catching it (with their hands out of sight).
• Altered dinner sequence to match TC, the Count’s statement once again followed by the scene of his earlier demonstration to Sook-hee. Starts with TC and extended with EC, fading between audio so the TC-unique music stops when he drops the act and starts explaining his tricks of seduction.
• Placed longer EC scene of Sook-hee being told about her mother back in position of TC equivalent, blending in TC ending and transition back to the present timeline so the EC music doesn’t restart. The EC’s longer shot of Sook-hee holding Hideko’s head is cut short but the length of the TC-derived flashback gives the feeling that some time has passed.

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