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A Tale of Two Sisters back to product details

When there's something you want to forget but can not.. and it follows you forever, like a ghost..
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written by markhl May 19, 2005 - 3:31 PM PDT
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
This film is loosely adapted from a familiar korean fable called Janghwa, Hongryeon (also the korean title for the film) which deals with the strained relationship dynamic between a new (evil) stepmother and a pair of sisters. The clever way in which this universal theme is adapted for the storyline is not immediately apparent as the film transitions from a seemingly conventional horror movie in the beginning to a more dramatic piece by the end. This style is in contrast to films like Whispering Corridors (1998) and Nightmare (2000) which are more conventional horror films from Korea. Along with other recent films like Acacia (2003) and The Uninvited (2003), the blurring between the drama and horror genres may represent a promising trend for the future of the horror genre in Korea. A Tale of Two Sisters is the most polished and widely known film from this group thus far. In the grander scope of korean cinema as a whole, this film represents a refreshing departure from the trend of horror films set in all-girl high schools (Yeogo Goedam series, Bunshinsaba (2004), etc.) or those imitating the style of their more widely known japanese counterparts (Ring Virus (1999), Phone (2002), etc.) As a movie fan who loves to see the unique and interesting twists on familiar themes found in international cinema, this one was a special treat.

The production for the film is top notch and special praise is warranted for the dark, lush, ornate design of the interior of the house which serves as a looming, claustrophobic backdrop. This works well in combination with the grand Waltz themes of the soundtrack. The leading roles of the older sister and stepmother are also portrayed adeptly by newcomer Im Su Jeong and a perfectly wicked Yeom Jeong Ah. Their performances overcome the main flaw of the film which is the overly convoluted "reveal sequence "near the end of the film. I can't help but wonder whether the sequence was extended after a test screening with a confused audience. Although a little more condensing and less "revealing" would've enhanced the film, the fracturing of the storyline was quite effective in this setting.

The best way to consider A Tale of Two Sisters would be as a psychological drama/mystery with horror elements rather than as a horror first. In this context, horror is used primarily to add a surreal touch rather than to provide a series of scares. Again, it is the blurring of the lines between these genres which makes this one an interesting film that is worth viewing through its extended, and at times challenging, presentation. Those expecting a pure horror film will most likely be disappointed. Also, a second viewing is necessary to view the film in the right context in my opinion. For those who will only be viewing the film once, I'd like to highlight the following dialogue from the film which more aptly (and simply) frames the main theme of this "horror" film in the right context:

Do you know what's really frightening?
When there's something you want to forget..
Something that you want to totally wipe from your mind
But, it can't be forgotten.. or erased at all.
And it follows you forever.. like a ghost..

Gorgeous headscratcher
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written by brakhage May 9, 2005 - 12:18 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
A horror film with beautiful photography, editing, acting - but an incomprehensible plot. It's rare that I talk to the screen begging for some sort of explanation, but the film derailed at one point and never came back, with flashback after flashback which may or may not be 'real'. I had to resort to the director's commentary on the bonus disc to make sense of it all, or at least confirm what I was guessing. (This is coming from a Memento and Conformist fan, who isn't afraid of narrative-scrambling headtrips.) But you may be sharper than I am, in which case you'll love it, especially for the excellent performances from all the actors involved. I'll give it another chance some day.

Fracture the Fable (and Maybe You'll Provide a Few More Chills)
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written by talltale April 4, 2005 - 5:04 PM PDT
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful
I am not a huge fan of Japanese horror films ("Ringu" and "Ju-On") that rely over and over on creepy appearances. For me, films that combine the creepy with an inventive theme or idea ("Pulse" and "Cure") are much more effective. Now, it seems, Korean filmmakers want to come up with their own brand of J-Horror; for some, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS will be "it."

This amazingly beautiful movie--call it the "21 Grams" of K-Horror--uses fractured storytelling to gussy up a rather trite soap opera involving mom, dad, step-mom, kids and a few subsidiary characters. It'll hook you for a time, but eventually you may find the twists & turns, backs & forths and identity shifts more trying than interesting--particularly once you "get" it. While there are surprises along the way, were the story told in anything approaching a conventional manner, "So What?" would be the typical response.

By breaking his narrative into shards, director Kim Jee-Woon offers an initially arty and confusing film that, doing increasing somersaults to explain itself, becomes more obvious, less mysterious and not just a little annoying.

But, boy, is it exquisitely photographed!

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(Average 7.12)
132 Votes
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