Yeon-seo (played by Yang Ha-eun) is a music student and orphan. She has to rely on money sent by Jin-seo (played by Ji Sung-won) in order to get by. Note that Yeon-seo doesn't really question where the money is coming from- "My Sister" barely even references it save for a few scenes where Yeon-seo is clearly shown to have plenty of cash on hand. This is the film's central theme- as obviously important as all this stuff is, the characters put surprisingly little thought into the proceedings.
It's appropriate material enough for a film that's mostly concerned with passive crime. For all of Yeon-seo's misgivings about what really happened to her sister, in the end, it's made clear that no one directly attacked Jin-seo and that the conclusions the police have drawn are reasonable based on the evidence they had. This doesn't make the reality of Jin-seo's life any less miserable. Mostly it just serves to state that notions like law, honor, and fair exchange are fairly meaningless without some definition of personal moral ethics.
This is demonstrated most clearly with the villains. Far from being over-the-top, manipulative psychos, the bad guys here are mostly just selfish jerks. Indeed, outside of the police it's pretty clear that all the characters knew or could at least guess that Jin-seo was in trouble, and consciously decided to do nothing because everybody has to deal with their own troubles in life. This takes on especially ironic proportions with the character who directly (but passively) provokes her destruction. A moment's deduction would have made it pretty obvious that Jin-seo didn't even know what was going on with that plot thread.
So, the narrative material here is pretty interesting. What about the film's aesthetics? Eh...it's all right. While "My Sister" has the look and general feel of a standard crime procedural, the occasional attempts by director Lee Je-rak at fancy camerawork notwithstanding. While this befits the general narrative arc of a crime that was enabled by a lot of people simply not caring about an obviously bad situation, it does hurt the movie's cinematic feel somewhat.
Regardless, the intellectual stuff is still strong enough to warrant a recommendation. Consider the final closing scenes of poetic revenge. Not justice- revenge. The distinction made here is a fairly important one. Justice was going to happen regardless of what Yeon-seo did at that point. It's her choice at the end to be magnaminous that ultimately points out the general absurdity of trying to humanize criminals writ large. While the guilt-stricken criminal and the cackling maniac may make for better story fodder, realistically speaking, the worst ones in real life tend to be the ones who won't admit they did anything wrong at all even when caught dead to rights.
It's these elements of truthy plausibility that give "My Sister" a fair amount of emotional heft even when the technical aspects of the production are fairly mediocre. While Yang Ha-eun may not give in a powerful performance, she definitely embodies the feel of an inexperienced young woman who awkwardly fumbles her way through the aftermath of tragedy. It's not true indigity or true grief, but you know what? Technically speaking it wasn't even a real tragedy.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "My Sister""
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