There are many reasons to watch foreign films: listening to another language can make us more attentive to the way we speak our own native tongue; we can also learn about new cultures while watching the enactment of different customs. Most of all, foreign films can introduce us to entirely new perspectives, something that Kim Ji-Woon’s 2003 movie “A Tale of Two Sisters” happens to do with great intensity. At first, it may seem to be the same standard ghost story that international remakes such as “The Ring” (2002) and “The Grudge” (2004) have inadvertently stapled to the Asian horror genre’s reputation, but this South Korean flick will quickly have its viewers abandoning any preconceived notions- that is if they’re not too busy hiding behind their hands. With all its twists and turns leading up to one unsettling resolution, this tale may make the world seem a bit darker even after the lights are turned back on.
All in the Family
The tale begins as teenager Su-mi (Su-jeong Lim) and her younger sister Su-yeon (Geun-Young Moon) return home after a rest in the hospital. Greeting them is their weary father (Kap-su Kim) and domineering step-mother, Eun-joo (Jung-ah Yum), with whom Su-mi has a strained relationship. What ensues from here on in is a close study of the family’s interactions. As the girls attempt to settle back into their home, Su-mi becomes more and more hostile towards her stepmother and Eun-joo directs her explosive anger towards the delicate Su-yeon. All Su-mi can do is try her best to protect her little sibling as their father grows increasingly detached from the abusive situation. As if that wasn’t enough melodrama, a series of spooky occurrences leads the three women to suspect that a supernatural presence may be lurking within their house’s flamboyantly papered walls. Soon enough the question arises- did the girls bring back something sinister, or has the terrifying spirit been waiting for them all along?
What Lies Beneath
I acknowledge that there are always a select few viewers who are not overly startled by ghostly imagery (or at least they make a strong effort to claim they aren’t), and so it is for them I must insist that what the film may lack in heart-stopping “boo” moments, it makes up for in its eerie atmosphere and tone. The photography is absolutely gorgeous, with a stylized pallet of earthy and shadowy colours such as blood reds and dusky greys which really make the violence and tragedy all the more encapsulating. But this isn’t just a ghost story—it’s a psychological maze and a mysterious puzzle patiently waiting to be put together. Like any lingering spirit from beyond the grave, this movie wants its dark story to be told before it scares the hell out of you. Don’t be perturbed by the oft seen long-haired lady who had her work cut out for her in horror cinema during the early 2000s. I honestly believe she makes her obligatory cameo merely to throw audiences off before they are taken completely out of their comfort zone, and thrown down the proverbial rabbit hole leading smack-dab into a pit of sadly realistic family secrets instead of white-faced children and cursed video-tapes.
You Can Skip the Remake
It pains me to say that this was yet another fine storyline destined to be utterly plundered and pillaged when American studios released “The Uninvited” in 2009. Why oh why can’t a good thing ever be left alone?? Anyways, in keeping with the topic of this particular review, all I can do is encourage you to see the original. It’s a bit confusing on occasion and has a pretty despondent theme with zero comic relief. However, it is so rare to see a psychological horror film done right. And there is nothing quite like the satisfaction one gets when all the fragments come seamlessly together in the end. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is equal parts engaging, creepy, thrilling and beautiful. All in all, storytelling like this definitely deserves to be seen.
My Rating: 8/10