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A Tale of Two Sisters

A Korean Horror movie directed by Kim Ji-Woon

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Mind-Bending and Beautifully Creepy--Fairy Tales Have NEVER been this Grimm

  • Jan 1, 2009

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.


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December 13, 2010
OOOO I need to see this one!! Thanks Woo!!
December 13, 2010
the American remake was called the UNINVITED but this was wwaayy superior.
May 18, 2011
I need to see this one too! Loved the review, William!
May 18, 2011
I think Aerin rented a bunch of my recommendations....I hope I do good with those recs :)
December 05, 2010
Oh yeah WP, one of the best.
May 12, 2011
just dropped a review for his latest...
October 13, 2009
I've been watching this one for about 4 years & some change. This one really blew my mind the first time around & I think I finally got it on the scond or third viewing. I will admit that second disc did help answer a lot of questions I had about the film in general. Overall, the film is pretty freakin' awesome. Thnks Woo!
October 13, 2009
This was indeed an awesome film! The more I watch it, the more things/secrets I uncover. Geez...I know this is a great movie but I wanted your twisted brain for some Miike nihilism...LMAO.
October 13, 2009
I will check out the Miike reviews as well. Never fear-Cenobite is here!!. LOL
May 12, 2011
Hey, Brian....I just dropped a review for another of his films--I SAW THE DEVIL.
May 18, 2011
I just bought it a few nights back but haven't cracked it open yet. I will chekc out your review but you better not spoil it for me. Hehehe Just kidding. Would you believe I've been watching Joy Luck Club a lot lately? I've always loved that film.
October 10, 2009
I don't know Woo, I've read some pretty grim fairy tales. The original Hansel and Gretel story was about incest and cannibalism, Snow White was about murder and bestiality, and Sleeping Beauty was about necrophilia. Now, that's pretty damn grim.
October 10, 2009
wow! I am amazed that you're also aware about the original Grimm tales which generations have decided to write them as children's books. Now there's an idea; those original stories would make excellent horror movies but mainstream H-wood would never try a project like that...
October 10, 2009
Have you seen "Snow White: A Tale of Terror"? It's not quite as dark as the original stuff, but it's quite entertaining?
October 10, 2009
nope I haven't but I have heard about it. any good?
October 10, 2009
I really liked it. I would've given it 3 1/2 or 4. Personally, I would've liked it if it had been darker.
October 10, 2009
Damn. The dvd must be out of print; but I saved it in my netflix queve. worth the purchase?
October 10, 2009
I don't actually own it so it's hard to say. The movie itself is quite entertaining, but if the DVD doesn't have special features, I'd go with a rental or used copy. However, they do have it on Amazon... Snow White: A Tale of Terror.
October 10, 2009
I'm going out to a used dvd store so maybe I'll find it. I'm trying to avoid buying too much in ammie nowadays...
May 12, 2011
Did you ever see it?

By the way, I just decided to re-read this review since you posted the review on "I Saw the Devil". Kim Ji-woon seems like a cool director. Is there a way to get a box set of his films here in the U.S.? I'm way too cheap to buy foreign films individually unless they are on sale. It always bugs me how much they cost compared to Hollywood crap that costs more to make but has so little to offer.
May 12, 2011
I am waiting for the re-release in anamorphic video this month. The original dvd was a horrid letterbox. I think his films do have a boxed set in Europe. Most of his films are out of print Europe and America, but there are still Asian releases. I'll keep an eye out for a used copy for you. Hey, I would get the Vengenace trilogy if I were you. I'll answer all your messages later....
June 23, 2009
Great review - I'll definitely put this in my Netflix queue now!
June 24, 2009
I guarantee this is one awesome moind-bender of a horror film. The last act is definitely puzzling, and the director does explain how to approach it on disc 2. If you're renting it; I would suggest to think 'backwards' in the last act...I love this film!
January 07, 2009
All I gotta say, guys, when you see this film, make sure you're prepared with your thinking hat! The last act may frustrate you, so if you get lost, see the 2nd disc, the director's interview gives us clues as to how to approach the climax.
January 05, 2009
Yeah, me too. Everybody seems to think very highly of this one. It's on my list and I think it's the first Korean film somewhere near #10, so I should be seeing it fairly soon.
October 10, 2009
Did you get to this movie yet in your list, Karen? It'll be a good one for this month...
October 10, 2009
It keeps getting bumped down by really bad horror films and Bollywood. I ought to bump it up, but if I do I doubt that I'd be reviewing it since you've already done it to a T.
October 10, 2009
It's always great to have a companion review. I was just wondering because this is among the best in Asian horror IMHO.
October 10, 2009
And it's not your typical J-horror either. Gotta see some Korean movies.
October 10, 2009
Btw, you will want to check out my review for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. It was a very good movie.
October 10, 2009
Doesn't sound as if it would be.
October 10, 2009
it was...Queenie...surprisingly it was.
More A Tale of Two Sisters reviews
review by . March 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***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. …
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.
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William ()
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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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