As someone that sees a lot of movies, whenever I see a film that floors me with a surprise or two, I love it. The main reason is all too often, whatever twist or turn a director wants to do, chances are I’ve seen a version of it before and I often guess the twist before it happens.
So without going into too much detail about director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, who previously helmed Oldboy, Thirst, Stoker and Lady Vengeance, I’ll just say he’s crafted a fantastic crime drama that absolutely offers you a story you haven’t seen before. Trust me, if you want to see a fantastic film this weekend, go see this movie as it’s currently playing in limited release. As Matt says in his review:
The Handmaiden is best viewed knowing none of the twists and turns, and it’s a film I imagine will improve on repeat viewings. It’s thoughtful and complex while also being immensely entertaining, funny, dark, and disturbing. It’s the kind of masterful work we’ve come to expect from Park Chan-wook.
If you’d like to know more about the film, watch the trailer.
Shortly after seeing the film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival I landed an extended interview with director Park. We talked about how developing Handmaiden, who he trusts for honest feedback, what kind of cameras he likes to use, how he spend two months storyboarding projects, future movies, his thoughts on superhero movies, if he’d like to develop something on TV, and a lot more. And for fans of The Handmaiden, director Park told me he’s releasing an extended version of the film in Korea due to fan demand and what it will include.
Check out what he had to say below.
Please note that since director Park Chan-Wook doesn’t speak English what you will read below is what his translator said.
COLLIDER: What kind of camera is that?
PARK CHAN-WOOK: Leica Q.
That’s funny, Michael Bay uses a Leica as a well. I see that I need to get a Leica. I am probably the first one to mention Michael Bay and your name together.
PARK: That’s funny.
First of all, thank you so much for giving me your time. Big fan of your work. I’m sure you hear that everyday. I would imagine with your track record whatever film you wanted to make after Stoker you could get the financing for. So what was it about this story and this movie that said I have to make it?
PARK: Well, it’s not necessarily true. He wasn’t able to get this film that he wanted to do financed. It was a western, and it’s not because of Stoker, but in any case, that one did not end up happening. To have come from Stoker, which is a female protagonist, he wanted to go on to do a film with male protagonists, this one being a western that he talked about. But because it didn’t come together, and to think that he will go on to do yet another film that has female protagonists, he felt well, “I’m doing another film with female protagonists,” so he wasn’t quite keen in the beginning.
From when you started developing Handmaiden to what people see on screen, how much changed along the way?
PARK: Well, he was thinking and from the inception to the finished film, there isn’t much difference because most of it, he decided how he was going to make his film right down to how he should end the film when he was reading the book. So even before he put down the book, he had the story for his film in his head already. Oh, one thing that he hadn’t decided was to transpose it to be a story that takes place in Korea. At first he thought that of course he is going to make this as a story that takes place in Victorian England in the 19th century. But only after he made the decision that, ”yes, I want to adapt this into a film,” he discovered that there is already a BBC miniseries. In that case, it will be repetitive to set it in the same Victorian England era. That being said, that if he had adapted the film to be set during that time, it will still be quite different from the BBC miniseries. Oh, and since it would’ve been in the English language it would’ve traveled better across the world and more audiences would be able to see it, in terms of English speaking audience. But to transpose it into a story that takes place in Korea during the Japanese occupied era in Korean history, he was able to add a lot more layers to the story, which in an artistic sense was a much more satisfying outcome.
I haven’t said yet, but I love the movie. And one of the things I love about it is that as someone who watches a lot of films many twists and turns happen that I was not expecting so well done. Which wasn’t really a question I just wanted to say it. I am curious though when you first finished the movie who are your friends and family that you show the first cut to for honest feedback?
PARK: His wife and his daughter.
So they are the first ones to see it?
PARK: Outside of the crew that are involved, yes.
What did you learn from your friends and family screening and your crew screenings that possibly impacted the finished film?
PARK: Well, there are small details, so I’m not sure if it’s worth mentioning. Well, one thing for example is the flashback to the den of criminals, the criminal family, comes into the film much earlier than he had written. So the audience finds out that Sook-hee as well as the Count are in cahoots, they’re scoundrels, they’re scheming, much earlier than he had written in the script. Now, that kind of change is something that he had implemented after friends and family feedback. But now that he has finished working on an extended edition…
PARK: The timing of the flashback went back to how he had originally written in the screenplay.
What extended edition?
PARK: In Korea, there are some fans who are very hardcore loyal fans around this film, The Handmaiden, this fandom has been created. This fandom has been strongly demanding that there needs to be an extended edition, anything that you have cut out, anything that you have left on the cutting room floor, we need to see. The investors they saw how well the film did at the box office and they agreed to have a extended version, and now there is one with 23 minutes of extra footage. Now, in Korea it had been available as a IPTV, pay-per-view TV in Korea as well, because there has been a phenomenal reaction to the film and the extended version that they have decided to have a limited release in a few numbers of screens in Korea even.