Sep 10, 2014

Review: Janghwa, Hongryeon [A Tale of Two Sisters] (2003)

South Korean Kim Jee-woon has made some pretty interesting movies in his career so far. Not including his Hollywood debut The Last Stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger, movies like The Good, the Bad and the Weird, I Saw the Devil and of course A Tale of Two Sisters have stood out quite prominently. Kim Jee-woon seems very comfortable with a camera and he also seems to be able to bring out some very emotional performances from his actors. One thing's for sure, he doesn't make easy, disposable movies you forget about the day after. Jee-woon's movies are haunting and quite capable of being disturbing if I Saw the Devil is anything to go by.

I haven't been able to see The Last Stand yet but from what I heard it was a little underwhelming. It definitely doesn't strike me as a movie for a director like Jee-woon but perhaps he swooned like I would've to be able to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Anyhow, I embarked into A Tale of Two Sisters with high hopes.


Genre: drama, horror, mystery
Directed by: Kim Jee-woon
Produced by: Jeong-wan Oh, Ki-min Oh, Jae-Won Choi, etc.
Written by: Kim Jee-woon
Music by: Byung-woo Lee
Running time: 115 minutes
Production company: B.O.M. Film Productions Co., Masulpiri Films
Distributed by: Chungeorahm Film, Tartan Films, Bac Films, etc.
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Budget: $3,700,000
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Su-jeong Lim, Geun-Young Moon, Jung-ah Yum, Kap-su Kim, Seung-bi Lee, Park Mi-Hyun


Su-Mi (Su-jeong Lim) comes back home from a stay at a psychiatric ward along with her sister Su-Yeon (Geun-Young Moon). It becomes pretty clear that the two sisters have an extremely strained relationship with their step-mother (Jung-ah Yum) and in extension with their father (Kap-su Kim) as well. As tensions rise and strange happenings seem to be going on around the house, Su-Mi tries to keep Su-Yeon safe from the apparent abuse she receives from their stepmother.


A Tale of Two Sisters hardly even feels like a horror movie when it begins. It's more of a drama before it starts adding a psychological twist. It keeps the drama element throughout and the movie is better for it. Kim Jee-woon has successfully made this an unsettling piece of horror that packs a real punch to the gut.

What I love about this film is the atmosphere that has been painstakingly crafted. The house that the story takes place in is a gorgeous set. When Su-Mi and Su-Yeon come in from the sunny wharf on their property, you instantly feel a climate shift. The house sure is nice but it's dark, shadow-filled and it seems to feature a million-and-one colourful patterns. From furniture to wallpaper, everything is patterned and it turns it into some kind of house from hell. I think that the over-decoratedness of the house is a reflection on the overbearing nature of the stepmother, but what do I know?

With this kind of atmosphere, it gives the director the opportunity to play some tricks on the viewer and Kim Jee-woon definitely does that. He'll do some unexpected stuff with the camera  which just enhances the creepyness factor of the movie tenfold. There are some jump scares on occasion but they're very well built up and they don't feel like cheap throwaways. There are some genuinely scary moments that had me gripping my cushion pretty tight but this isn't a movie that will go down as one of the scariest movies of all time or anything like that. Its scope goes beyond that.

The story definitely falls into the complicated category but personally I love that. I like trying to wrap my head around stuff and trying to figure out what happened but I understand that it's not something for everyone. Kim Jee-woon who also wrote the screenplay doesn't just keep his card close to his chest. More like he cuts a thin slit into his chest and pushes the cards into the wound. If you're expecting something that is a straight freeway instead of a twisty road through the mountains, don't watch A Tale of Two Sisters. Watch the American remake, The Uninvited I guess.

With the big emotional family drama film that serves as the main backdrop to A Tale of Two Sisters, it's horror with a very grand scope. The payoff is worth the time invested and you get some more than decent scares throughout its 115 minute run time. The score is beautiful and there are many interesting visuals because of the eerie house set. I'll admit that I found myself reading the plot on Wikipedia a little while after having tried to puzzle it all out on my own but that's not an issue to me. I really like the story a lot and it's a movie that as a result has some pretty good re-watchable value.



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