Movie of the Day – A Tale of Two Sisters
December 4, 2011 3 Comments
My love affair with Korean cinema and the often bemused rejection of horror movies continues in today’s post. A Tale of Two Sisters is a 2003 Korean horror movie that is directed by one of my favorite directors, Ki Ji-Woon (A Bittersweet Life, I Saw The Devil). The film is an adaptation of an old Korean story entitled Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, which thanks to wikipedia and the internet translates into “The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon” which you can read about here. In the traditional Asian horror cinema, there are plenty of ghostly looking kids with stringy black hair and some visceral imagery. I am not sure why that is the norm, but it really seems to be the standard in horror movies, which is why I am adverse to wanting to watch horror movies that use this insipid plot devices all the damn time. After taking a look at this movie, this is really the only film that should be allowed to use that thematic element.
Set in an isolated lakeside house, it begins with two young girls, Su-mi (Im Su-jung) and Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong), returning home after a period of hospitalization following the death of their mother. In the meantime, their father Mu-Hyun (Kim Gab-su) has married Eun-joo (Yeom Jeong-ah), whom the girls obviously despise. Strange, violent visions begin to disturb Su-mi and she becomes convinced that Eun-joo is keeping a dark secret from the family. ~ Tom Vick, Rovi
The more I watch this film, the more I love Kim Ji-Woon’s work as a director. He has made incredible films and doing a horror film seems well within in his wheelhouse. I can’t get over how, dark and moody the film is without it being so ever bearing. Often times when you watch a film like this, more often than not, the entire film is transposed into this setting it becomes the sole highlight of it. Not the case with this film as the drab setting and visuals help enhance and never detract from the story. I find the cinematography and visuals of the film so well done that you never question what happens on the screen while watching the horror unfold. Now to clarify about the visual look of the film, instead of heaping praise, this is a brightly lit film for a horror movie. Sure some of the settings from a design aspect are the typical things you see in horror movie with cracked, hard wood floors (apparently no carpeting exists in these worlds) and angular designs. The color use is what sets it apart from other movies, tricking you into become comfortable with the settings.
Now that I am done with the visuals, which are incredible, the story and acting is another thing to discuss. I had a general issue with the progression of the story and it’s conclusion. I won’t spoil any reveals but suffice to say that this was as safe of a ending that could have come from the movie. The lead and build-up of the story is tense and engaging. I loved watching this retelling of a Korean folktale and enjoyed the pairing of the story with the visual cues and acting. It’s a strong story with some jarring reveals, but the ending just let me a bit underwhelmed. It’s the one things I would have a gripe about this movie, but the overall presentation of the story is enough to be comfortable with the film.
If you have never seen a Kim Ji-Woon film before, this is probably the best place to start. It’s not his first feature film, but I think this really set him on the path where he is now. It established him as a storyteller and a visual dynamo, you can help but feel enraptured by the story of A Tale of Two Sisters. The film is genuinely scary and tense as can be with progression of the characters psychological stance and emotional outbursts, but the ending just seems so safe that you might not feel either pleased or upset about it. Either way, it is a solid horror movie.