A Tale of Two Sisters (2004)
Director: Ji-woon Kim
Kap-su Kim/Bae Moo-hyeon
Two sisters named Su-mi (Lim Su-jeong) and Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong) return home after a vacation at the loony bin. Once there, not only do they have to deal with their overly passive Pa-Pa (Kap-su Kim) and their definitely un-balanced stepmother (Yum Jung-ah) but they’re also faced with spooky ghosts who are “booing” about the premises. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong! Trust me…it’s not! Bring on the hurt!
Do know what's really scary? You want to forget something,
totally wipe it off your mind…but you never can. It can't go away and it follows
you around like a ghost. - Eun-joo
The South Korean, “A Tale of Two Sisters” was a tough genre pill to gobble up on this snowy (yes snowy…Montreal sucks) Sunday morning. It should be said that the affair was beyond gorgeous to look at, almost akin to a painting come to life. It sported breathtaking exteriors (the house’s surroundings and the woods) and striking in their architecture interiors while the overall aura at hand was surreal to say the least; close to Fairy Tale like. But beneath all this beauty laid a very sinister undercurrent, one that would eventually rain on my parade. And rain it did...it actually made me ponder about that gun on my night-table and how comfortable it would feel on my right temple. Let’s get ugly!
For the first riveting 40 minutes or so, this celluloid cancer mainly played like a gut wrenching drama but with hints of “something” else going on. The bond the sisters shared had me by the old-ticker (Both actress were exceptional with Lim Su-jeong in particular blowing my mind!), the conflict they had with their stepmother (a hypnotizing Jung-ah Yum) brewed my kettle and the underlying ambiguity of the narrative teased me like a T-Bone being dangled in Cujo’s face. Then… the mallet came down…hard. The narrative took an uppercut twist as the film’s atmosphere became darker and heavily oppressive. Even the directing style switched on me with a harsher demeanor being presented to fit the spin in the storyline! I now had a new type of strange animal to deal with, one that echoed the works of Lynch, Croneberg and a couple of top-notch horror films that I won’t mention in fear of giving anything away. I’ll just say this; everything I thought I knew and I thought was going on, crumbled before my eyes to make way for a haunting, poignant and psychologically/emotionally manipulative mind-boggler. Driven by powerful themes such as love, guilt, anger and bottomless regret, this sad song drained and crushed me. This was no simple ghost story!
Speaking of ghosts, yes they were present in this house of pain but were used in a different fashion than the norm. Here the spirits could’ve represented many things, think metaphors and symbolism. Their main purpose (from my perspective of course) was to act as physical manifestations of the emotional tornado that was trashing about. I adored that angle! Which brings me to my sole peeve with the movie; the specters were expressed in a “played out” manner and that took away from some of the scenes. Does a creepy girl, with long black hair covering her pale face sound familiar? Yup, if you’ve seen Ringu or Ju On then you’ve already witnessed the poltergeists in here. Let it go guys! Its over! I pray for an Asian horror film that will show a female ghost with a freaking crew cut already!
But by and large, this was a visually arresting, bone chilling, brilliantly acted, ambitiously written and dizzying emotional/psychological enigma that had my cells working in over time. It’s a must see! Now, you going to take these sisters home? Or should I? I think I’m in love…
We get something messy in a fridge (I don’t know what that was…a finger?), some blood, a stab in the hand, an animal getting its neck snapped and more blood! The flick was not really about gore though; it was about creepiness.
Su-jeong Lim (Soo-mi) blew my mind in her grounded performance. She had a sense of stillness not usually seen in actresses of her young age. I predict big things for her! It also helped that the camera totally loved her! Geun-yeong Mun (Soo-yeon) was excellent as the more internal and fragile of the two sisters. Jung-ah Yum (Eun-joo) was perfectly cast as the neurotic, threatening yet at the same time vulnerable stepmother. What a juggling act! She didn’t drop a ball once! Kap-su Kim (Bae Moo-hyeon) excelled as the emotionally drained father.
T & A
After the film I called this 1-800 number and the chick on the other end of the line told me she was naked, playing with “beads”. Then again she also told me she was 19 when she sounded like she was at least 50 years of age. Make with that what you will.
Ji-woon Kim’ visuals reverberated the film’s emotional train of thought. Initially, he was fairly restraint but the more the account plunged into vertigo, the more the camera followed in that trek which led to some sumptuous, poetic and striking imagery. It should also be said that he handled his fear scenarios effectively and that the cinematography was astounding.
We get a classical inclined score that gelled with and supported the images at hand perfectly.
I didn’t know what to expect when I slapped Tale of Two Sisters in my DVD player and I was colored red with razor slits! This cheerless ditty wound up feeding my grim state and then some via its moving storyline, bang on acting, potent fear jolts, lyrical/bleak imagery and its multi-layered nature. Sure the presence of the now requisite Asian horror film “ghost girl” was a “ho hum” device but that was solely a slight no-no. This was my kind of horror movie! One that dared to test me on all fronts! As the ends credits rolled I was semi bewildered and I’m sure that was the point. Thanks for the cerebral challenge! I needed that! Now check it out and see if you still feel!
This flick will open nationally in Los Angeles and New York in early December before expanding across the country.
The Korean title of the film reads like this: Janghwa, Hongryeon
The movie was derived off a famous Korean folk tale named "Janghwa Heungryeonjeon."
Su-jeong Lim started off as a model for magazines and then branched into acting.
NOTE TO SELF: Got to hide the corpse of my landlady who interrupted my sit down 50 minutes in. Guns on night tables do come in handy! END OF NOTE.
VISIT THE OFFICIAL A TALE OF TWO SISTERS SITE