Based on a Korean folktale, writer/director Kim Jee-Won (The same guy who gave us the fantastic "A Bittersweet Life" ) has crafted an intelligent, absorbing piece of psychological terror that may stay with you for a long time. "A TALE OF TWO SISTERS" is the type of film that may sometimes confuse the viewer, but that confusion is part of its compelling and immersive nature. Pseudo-intellectuals will no doubt have a ball trying to de-code just what this film is all about. The film is part ghost story and part psychological thriller and does not rely on gross-out sequences or cheap scares. Yes, you guessed it, this fabulous film has been marked by Hollywood for remake hell, the news of this just made me cringe. (This remake was "The Uninvited")
Two very close sisters, Su-mi (Im Su-Jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-Young) return home to their father's dark and foreboding house after a stay in the hospital. Su-mi, the elder of the two, have always been protective of Su-yeon. Their stepmother, Eun-joo (played by beauteous Yeom Jung-Ah) have ruled the household with an iron fist; and meek Su-yeon is incapable of defending herself against the abuse by the stepmother. Their father is taciturn and burdened while Eun-joo greets the two with forced enthusiasm. The two sisters are now back after a long absence in the household, living under the same roof with their stepmother is a nightmare for them. To make matters worse, strange things begin to occur. A strange terrifying presence is being felt in the house. Is this the stepmother trying to scare them or something more sinister?
"A Tale of Two Sisters" is anything but a conventional supernatural horror film. The film draws its strengths from the way it is structured, the film is methodical, cryptic, sometimes confusing and is perfect for multiple viewings. The number of subtle details and clues almost seem endless, the story will catch you by surprise and cause you to drop your guard. One would do well in watching it more than once just so you can see its depths of its script. The first time I saw this film, I was a little annoyed but after awhile, it dawned on me that this film may actually be one of the most compelling psychological horror thrillers I've seen in a long time.
The film is actually divided into two acts. The first act deals with the sisters return, while the second half is actually more fragmented than one would think. The first act gives the clues and subtle details. The questions you have to ask yourself are: 1) What is happening to this family? 2) How did it come to this? 3) Why is their father acting so insensitive? The answers are there, and one needs to pay attention. The second half is where all the answers lie, most of the answers are told backwards and the viewer will have to put the sequences all together.
The film's foreshadowing holds back the answers in a very compelling manner. The twists and turns will force the viewer to work and the more you see, the more the viewer will get sucked in. Those easily frustrated and annoyed would be well off watching it with someone with a knack for putting together Lynchian-type thrillers. Patience is a must for this type of film. Make certain that the film has your undivided attention, the hints and clues are there. I promise you that the film is set up quite well, and the answers will be there---Well, at least most of the answers, anyway. The film is a clever blend of fantasy, memory and the supernatural. The film won't encourage you to become indifferent but will create an atmosphere full of puzzling structure that works well, so well that it is similar to a fable and a mind-bender; both aspects work in harmony and complements everything else.
Aside from its involving storyline, the film's cinematography and direction is the film's biggest strength. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, but maintains that dark and ominous feel. The lighting effects and the atmosphere exudes sheer creepiness, all the while looking quite alluring. The spectacular screenplay is also matched by the cast's powerful performances. Look closely, and you will see the intricacies of the two sisters and their relationship to their parents. Key elements in their roles are played well by Im Soo-Jung and Moon Geun-Young. Their change of emotions are one of the film's very effective trump cards. Beauteous Yeum Jung-Ah (Tell Me Something) is excellent, she plays the stepmother with frightening fervor and an unhinged vitality.
Before I begin to ruin the film's experience and start listing the things to look for, I think I should stop here. I have seen this film two times before, and the third time I saw it to prepare for this review, I even uncovered some much more deeper details to the film which I believed I may have missed the first two times. This is the beauty of this film, the film's impact is so compelling that it remains in my mind. The film's ambition is so far reaching that its wonderful experience will be derived from the effort in trying to find all the subtle clues and details.
Don't expect a bloody "gorefest" or a conventional horror film that relies on scares when you watch this film. The film's beauty borders more on the cerebral side and its psychological aspects will more than likely make the most experienced movie watcher (like me) work. The subtle involvement of ghosts, the traditional imagery that almost gives it an old-fashioned feel is terrific. "A Tale of Two Sisters" just overflows with compelling material and the screenplay is worth multiple viewings.Those who love mind-benders and psychological horror will be delighted, for this film is one of the very best horror films from South Korea.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION! [5 Stars]
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