A Tale of Two Sisters

09/22/2020 07:26

Film: A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon)

Year: 2003

Director: Jee-woon Kim

Writer: Jee-woon Kim

Starring: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum and Soo-jung Lim



Now this was a movie that I first heard about in college. For whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten around to watching it, but I knew about it since it got a lot of buzz in the states. Something that I didn’t know was that it was the first Korean film to get a wide release to theaters. Now I’m not completely sure if this was in the horror genre or just in general. I will admit here that I did see the American remake first and it was one that I enjoyed, but was excited to see where they were inspired from. They synopsis is a family is haunted by the tragedies of deaths within the family.

Now for this, I’m going to give the most general overview of this as there are a lot of moving parts and things that need to be experienced. We start this off with Soo-mi Bae (Soo-jung Lim) as a doctor (Dae-yeon Lee) asks her questions. She doesn’t respond to him though.

We then shift to a car arriving at a fairly large house. The person driving is the father, Moo-hyeon Bae (Kap-su Kim). With him are his two daughters of Soo-mi and Soo-yeon (Geun-young Moon). Before going into the house, they go down to a pond nearby. When they finally go into the house, they come face to face with their stepmother, Eun-joo Heo (Jung-ah Yum). There is quite a bit of tension here before the girls go up to their room.

Through pictures, we learn that the animosity is from Eun-joo is a doctor. Their mother of Mrs. Bae (Mi-hyeon Park) is how Eun-joo comes in contact with the family and the fact that she has now married their father bothers them. Soo-yeon is more timid, so Soo-mi wants her to tell her everything that happens so she can protect her.

As the tensions rise in the house, Eun-joo wants to invite over her brother and his wife. They are Sun-kyu (Gi-hong Woo) and Mi-hee (Seung-bi Lee). It ends up just being Eun-joo and Moo-hyeon that meet with them and it is an awkward dinner scene. It all ends with Mi-hee going into a fit and she thinks she saw something.

She isn’t the only one that thinks she sees something. All of the women here think they see ghosts, which one of them is thought to be Mrs. Bae herself. This bothers Moo-hyeon and one of his reactions is that maybe Soo-mi isn’t cured like they thought. It becomes a question of what is real and what is going on in this house. They must figure it out before it is too late.

Now I think that gets you up to speed without going into spoilers as that is something I don’t really want to do. This is definitely a movie I think that people need to experience. I’m a little bit mad at myself for watching The Uninvited a couple of times before coming in, because that of course spoils what the reveal is here since it is a remake. What I will say though, it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this movie though as this goes much deeper and without playing my hand too much, this is of course better.

Where I want to start with this analysis is that coming in to watch this, something in the Shudder description caught my eye. That is where I saw this movie so thanks to them for having it available. What they said there was Shakespearian and I think that is a really good description of what we get here of being a tragedy. It sets the tone from the beginning with Soo-mi being in a mental hospital or at least has been kept somewhere where she has to talk to a doctor. We don’t know though if that is the present of the past, which I like it giving us that we have an unreliable narrator. This can be a tough line to tip-toe, as I hate when they put everything in a character’s head. This movie does it very well in my opinion.

As I said, since I knew what the reveal was, I was watching characters to see how they interact. I have to say that I was sucked in as this movie is much deeper in what they do with their story. I’m not going to spend most of this comparing it to the American remake, but what I will give credit for is playing up the supernatural elements more and being from South Korea, lean into it as well. There were a few scenes that I remembered as they were pulled from here. They don’t make as much sense now seeing what it means here though as the other really is using it for scares without truly fleshing it out in my opinion.

Before I get away from making my point though about the Shakespearian tragedy though, this is all hinged on what happened to Mrs. Bae. We know that she passed away, hence why Eun-joo is there. Seeing that she killed herself and the effect that it had on Soo-yeon is great. It does explain why she is scared of a wardrobe. Now for those who have seen the movie, the reveal is both aggregating and sad. I will be honest though, I was a bit confused at the end. I did read up on some trivia which confirmed some of the things I thought and then filled in what I missed. Without that, this would be much more difficult to piece together.

What really helps this though is the acting. It is odd as I’m writing this, as no one really stands out to be honest. Kim is someone that is suck between a rock and a hard place. You don’t want to blame him for moving on, but it is tough who he has ‘chosen’. He wants what is best for everybody; it is just that everything is wearing on him. Yum is probably the best performance to be honest. We see when everyone gets to the house, how she has just taken over. There is a flip to her character though that is completely different and I loved it, especially learning the reveal. Lim is solid and I think along with Moon, they show a lot of depression and sadness. Soo-yeon is a bit more subdued, which makes sense while Soo-jung is strong, but barely hanging on. The rest of the cast rounds this out for what was needed.

The last thing to really go over would be the effects. I love that we don’t get a lot of them as it doesn’t really need them. They do so well with the practical effects in the movie. There is a creepy scene with Mrs. Bae that involved blood running down her leg and a hand. This was something I read up on and it made sense after piecing it together. We also get things that you don’t necessarily know are real or not, but it all makes sense in the end. The cinematography is also well done in framing shots and I have to give credit there.

Now with that said, I’m glad that I finally saw this movie. It truly is superior how they frame this story with a character that is unreliable and we question everything that we are seeing. It coming from South Korea, they don’t shy away from the supernatural elements and I really like that. The story is deeper and I think that the acting, although no one stands out, it still works for me. There aren’t a lot of effects, but it didn’t necessarily need them. The soundtrack also fit for what was needed in developing the atmosphere. I would say that this is a good movie and would recommend giving it a viewing. I will warn you; this is foreign so I did watch it with subtitles. If that is an issue then I would say to avoid it. You are missing out though on an interesting take on the haunted house/psychologically broken/unreliable narrator narrative.


My Rating: 8 out of 10