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A Tales of Two Sisters (KOREA 2003)

Director :
Kim Jee-Woon
Cast : Kim Kab-Su, Yeom Jung-Ah, Im Soo-Jung, Moon Geun-Young

The two sisters Su-Mi and Su-Yeon arrive home after a time away for treatment of an illness. The two girls appear to be happy as they explore their house and garden, and it is clear that the two girls are very close. At the arrival of their stepmother it becomes clear that the family has some problems – the girls do not like her and their father seems to ignore the problem. The grand old house in which the family live seems to be very comfortable. But then strange things start to happen to this small family, which may or may not be of their own making.

by Martin Cleary

Firstly, let me start off by saying that I had no idea what to expect from this film as I had no idea what it was about. I’d heard a few people mention it, but decided not to read any reviews as it’s sometimes better to see a film without knowing anything about it. Also, the films poster had me hooked anyway, with its macabre ‘family portrait’ image. A Tale Of Two Sisters was, for me a pleasant surprise – if you can say that about a horror film. If you like slow paced character horror, then don’t both reading this review – just go see it – as the less you know, the better it is. As I’ve just mentioned, the film is paced very slowly.

From its opening scenes you can tell that this is a story which will unfold gently, and that atmosphere is the most important thing here. If you’re looking for a quick, graphic and nasty horror film then look elsewhere. There’s nothing much in the film that will have you closing your eyes in disgust, or screaming at the characters to ‘run away’. Instead, ATOTS gets underneath your skin. I found it creepiest when the film had actually ended, and I was thinking about it. Sound stupid? The reason for this is that you need to watch the film all of the way through to make any sense of it all. There’s a moment in ATOTS – about two thirds of the way through – when something happens that makes you go ‘what?’ It’s from this point that the film begins to seem to start making sense, yet at the same time other parts get more confusing. You’ll have to see it to see what I mean, but it is because the story is dependent on the films actual structure itself. There’s a couple of references in ATOTS to other fairly recent horror films such as Ringu and Audition – although this is a film with much more restraint and lacks the graphic delight / horror of Audition, and without the rigid ‘count-down’ structure of Ringu. The story’s structure in ATOTS is the main key to understanding it.

The film is actually loosely based on a Korean folk-tale, and has been previously filmed in various versions five times before. This wasn’t a story that I was familiar with and so I can’t compare this with any of the other versions, but to me the story seemed fresh and continually interesting. The performances are excellent from the whole cast. The two girls, played by Im Soo-Jung and Moon Geun-Young, hold the film with ease and manage to make sure that you can’t tell if you’re supposed to sympathize with them or if there’s something more sinister underneath. Yeom Jung-Ah as the step-mother also gives a strong performance, and she’s an actress I’ll keep an eye out for in the future. This is a gothic horror film and the backgrounds and surroundings in the film (mainly the house) take on a character of their own. There’s lots of long tracking shots which really give you the sense of the space, but also make you worry about what may be around the corner. It’s beautifully shot and every scene seems to have been carefully planned with an artist’s eye, and ATOTS is visually the most striking Korean film that I have seen yet. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but A Tale Of Two Sisters will stick in your mind. I have been intentionally vague about the way the plot develops, but this is because it would be easy to give away the story to a film which impresses with its subtleties and originality. If you do like ATOTS, you’ll probably want to see it again to work out its hidden layers.

Plot : 4/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 3/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The girls return home to some stunning cinematography and a brilliant
  theme tune
- The dinner party
- The ‘Oh shit’ revelation
- The final moments when it starts to make some sense

Buy this movie at YesAsia – A Tales of Two Sisters

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