A TALE OF TWO SISTERS
This Korean film is among
the most visually expressive ghost stories youíll ever experience--and also
among the most convoluted and confusing!
Kim Jee-woon is one of South Koreaís top filmmakers, having debuted with
the highly regarded QUIET FAMILY in 1998 (the basis for Takashi Miikeís THE
HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS) and the equally esteemed FOUL KING in 2000. More
recently he made the film festival sensation THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD
2003ís A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (JANGHWA, HONGRYEON) is
Kim Jee-woonís most successful film by far, and the only one to garner any kind
of significant release in the West. Itís become one of the most acclaimed
K-horror films of recent years, and was
remade by Hollywood in 2009. Iím apparently
the only person whoís not over the moon about the film; I like and admire it,
Young Su-mi and her little sister Su-yeon move into their fatherís country
house. Unfortunately the place is also inhabited by the girlsí mean stepmother
Eun-ju--and at least one unquiet spirit!
At first Eun-ju seems overly cordial toward the girls. However, she
reveals her true colors when she begins tormenting Su-yeon, against whom she
bears an evident grudge. Eun-ju also acts plenty weird, watching staticy TV
screens and freaking out a nice couple who come to the house to have dinner.
Eventually Eun-juís torment of Su-yeon grows downright monstrous. Su-mi
confronts her father with this fact; he reacts by telling her that Eun-ju has
been dead for several years!
Another surprise is in store for Su-mi (and the viewer) when Eun-ju begins
tormenting her...until the latter is confronted by Eun-ju in an entirely
different outfit and attitude. Whatís real and what isnít??
This film has a simple enough premise reminiscent of past films like THE
OTHER and FIGHT CLUB, but itís as complex and multi-layered in its execution as
nearly anything you can think of. Sorting out whoís dead and who isnít becomes
quite a chore, as does discerning whatís real and whatís not, or even who it is
weíre watching. Sudden viewpoint shifts are common, as are unexplained
flash-forwards. By the end itís made clear, courtesy of several convoluted
flashbacks, that no less than three central characters--or at least certain
facets of those characters--are actually a single person, and that the facts of
the narrative are quite different from what weíve been shown. A DVD extra has a
psychiatrist weighing in on the psychological complexities of the film, and I
believe youíll have to be a psychiatrist to fully sort out what happens.
Where A TALE OF TWO SISTERS works best is as a purely visual and
atmospheric spectacle. The cinematography by Lee Mogae has a seductively dark
shimmer, shunning brightness or excessive contrast. The visuals complement the
spare, quiet aura of the film, which contains very few conventional scares. The
coiled, muted atmosphere put me in mind of a held breath, or possibly a stifled
scream; given the content, Iíd say both metaphors are entirely appropriate.
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Producer: Oh Ki-min
Screenplay: Kim Jee-woon
Cinematography: Lee Mogae
Editing: Ko Im-pyo
Cast: Yeom Jeong-A, Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Kim Kab-su