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A Tale of Two Sisters

A Korean Horror movie directed by Kim Ji-Woon

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Scary and sometimes beautiful.

  • Mar 11, 2011
***1/2 out of ****

"A Tale of Two Sisters" is a film that will most likely evoke many different emotions out of the audience. It may confuse you, and then again it may absorb you. Some people do not like being captured and forcefully taken for a ride when it comes to a horror film like this, but when the stops are as well-done as they are here, I can't complain about my lack of control. This film reminded me ever-so much about why horror movies aren't that great nowadays. Not only are they not scary; but they're also ugly both visually and imaginatively. "A Tale of Two Sisters" kind of stops every genre cliché in its path; and in its self, it is an imaginative and smart horror movie. As a horror movie built around extreme craft, it's a masterpiece. And it's also one of the best horror movies of the 2000's. And those are rare to come across. If I could recommend this film for one thing- which if frankly, hard as hell to do- it would be the sheer uniqueness of it all. From the visual detail to the smartly played scares, "A Tale of Two Sisters" is a force to be reckoned with. It's a masterpiece on a stylistic level; having a not-so-perfect story, but also possessing a good sense of direction and destination. It knows where it's going; and it's not afraid to go where it wants to go. Some say it's restrained. I say it's not. I say it goes all out and shows us real horror. The thing works so hard to be scary, that in fact, the scariest scenes didn't so much as let me breathe. But I was both relieved and sad when these moments were over; since these are by far the richest moments that this little Korean master-work has to offer. The story is pretty good; but I wouldn't call it perfect. The third act is virtually the only flaw of this film, and everything else runs almost too smoothly. And if you know me, that's far from a complaint. So I suppose I applaud this film for its craft, its visual mastery, and its scare factor. This is definitely a "scary horror movie"; the kind that doesn't come along often for its genre. It's kind of sad to see that America already remade this little gem into their own dud; that is to say, if it really was as much of a dud as I'd expect it to be. But I'm sure it just can't compare to the near-perfection that is displayed here. This is the movie to see. It's a must-see for horror fanatics as well as anyone who likes a drop of emotion in their horror miracle-work. I admired it. And I was also very entertained by it. It felt convenient, fresh, and inventive; just what I wanted out of a horror film with such a good premise.

Warning: "A Tale of Two Sisters" can be confusing as hell. Sometimes this adds to its beauty; and sometimes it makes it less appealing to the general public. But all in all, it's consistently creepy, entertaining, and true to its genre. It's never insulting and in fact, it's quite respectable towards the little genre that we like to call "horror". But what's horror. Us Americans don't seem to know. But while we're out remaking stuff, Korea is making some seriously awesome shit such as this little film. I admittedly admire "A Tale of Two Sisters". It tells the tale of two sisters (bet you didn't know that one) who move in with their creepy-ass step-mother for a while. The step-mother lives in a nice home; but she is far from content. She's demeaning, and possibly supernatural in her intimidation. The sisters, however, are much different. Each has had their share of mental problems in the past, and they dislike their step-mom very much. They fear that she stalks them; and they also suspect that she's abusive towards both of them. But one always knows while the other doesn't; and this is what makes "A Tale of Two Sisters" such a fascinating watch. The complication of the story is that there seems to be a ghost in the house, and yet the film never turns into the sort of "haunted house" type movie that we're all so tired of watching. However, I do have some serious beef with the "big twist". It doesn't suck, and it doesn't disappoint; but it was confusing. I did some research into where the story went from there, and I think I understand the thing better now. But you've been warned. Otherwise, this is a damn fine ghost story. It's nearly powerful; and even has a hint of drama thrown in for a little solid, extra effect. It's not for everyone, but it's just about as disturbing and riveting as you'd expect the thing to be. So look forward to that.

Im Soo Jung and Moon Geun Young play the sisters. I must say; this is a pair of fine performances. The two actresses work so well on-screen, and it's almost scary to think that they're daring enough to be in a film this creepy. But to me, they're but the icing on the cake. The real star here is Yeom Jeong-ah plays a very, very convincing "scary step-mother". There was just something so seductive about the performance, and in fact, I found it intoxicating whenever this bold woman was on-screen. I appreciate the performance; and I also appreciate how this film has good characters. Yes, good characters. How many horror movies have them? I'll wait until you're done counting.

Now look; visual effects have become what horror films are all about these days. Ghosts and Ghouls are now fully compressed of CG, skeletons are now fully animated, and just about anything else is the product of pure technology. This usually takes away from any imagination, and I can seriously get into a horror movie when it fails to use effects to its advantage. But here we have a horror film that uses a lot of CG; but it uses it all so well that in fact, it's one of the better horror movies out there. Kim Ji-woon is a talented director who always seems to have a damn good vision going on. He wanted to make this film because he admires the horror genre a great deal; and he wanted to tell the story as well. Well, to my surprise; this movie is really scary. A lot of the time, it even borders on being scary and being creepy; but it almost always makes you jump. Yes, that's good enough for me. A good jump a day keeps the average horror fan alive. I may not be a hardcore horror fan, as some have said, but I feel good when I watch a movie that can consistently strike fear into my heart. It's quite awesome what an entertaining film Kim Ji-Woon has made here. Is it flawless? Not quite. But the visuals are seductive, the atmosphere is perfect, and the thing is still pretty freaking awesome in spite of its confusing plot. If you can decode it; then this film is as great as I've made it out to be. The film doesn't really care how or when you want to be scared; and that's what I love about it.

The ugly truth is; few horror films that come out nowadays are actually good. They started genuinely sucking in the 70's and 80's, and started getting really bad in the 90's. Now, nearly everything out of that genre is crap. Why choose stuff like "Hostel", which was a pornographic excess in the exploitation of violence, when you can have something as beautifully done as "A Tale of Two Sisters"? This film is actually scary, and it's also very fun to watch, believe it or not. It is perhaps better known as the "highest grossing Korean horror movie of all time", but you should also know it by how good it is. Please, take the time to watch it. It's ingenious and entertaining, and moves at just the right pace. It's one of 2003's best; a surprisingly engaging horror movie from Korea that never lets go of its genuine nature. It felt honest. It felt great. I adored it, admired it, and in the end of the day; I kind of loved it. The thing just looks and feels too good to skip. It's a film that will take you, immerse you, and will only let go when you want it do; which will more than likely be never. The thing is smart, and has good characters. It's loving towards the horror genre; never a homage, as a lot of horror movies are, but always something completely new. It's not the best Korean film out there; but its good horror anyways. And that's good enough for me.

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March 11, 2011
YES this is an excellent one for sure, GREAT review.
March 13, 2011
this is quite possibly my favorite Korean horror movie to date. thanks, Ryan!
More A Tale of Two Sisters reviews
review by . January 01, 2009
posted in ASIANatomy
Korean Movie poster
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 …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
Lives up to the hype. This is one of the most intriguing of the Asian horror genre - with a twist you won't expect. Much better than the American quasi-remake.
review by . January 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Two sisters come home from an extended stay in the hospital, where their emotionally distant father seems both unaware and unwilling to protect them from their controlling and vindictive step-mother. Of course, as in all Asian horror, things are not always what they seem.     I'd heard great things about this film from Asian horror afficionados, and had been looking for a copy to rent for a while. I finally broke down and bought one; I'm glad I did since this is the kind of film …
Quick Tip by . October 17, 2009
I'v seen this one numerous times & even own a copy. If you can stump me on initial viewing, you've impressed the hell outta me for sure.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


File:A Tale of Two Sisters film.jpg

Two young sisters recovering from an unnamed trauma must face a mysterious past in this excellent South Korean shocker. A worldwide hit upon its release and based on an old Korean fairy tale; two sisters (wonderfully played by Su-jeong Lim and Geun-yeong Mun) come to live with their cold and distant father and turn-on-a-dime stepmother in a house where nothing is as it seems. A wonderfully haunting score, starkly beautiful imagery, and a labyrinthine plot that twists and turns at every dark corner all set the stage for a riveting and often terrifying guessing game of a movie. Equal parts drama, mystery, and ghost story,A Tale of Two Sistersis a richly complex and challenging cinematic treat that may very well demand repeat viewings.--Matt Wold
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Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror
Release Date: December 17, 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: Mar. 29, 2005
Runtime: 1hr 54min
Studio: Tartan Video
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