Wrapped in bloody brilliance and a creepy mind-bending narrative, Kim Jee-woon's "A Tale of Two Sisters" is a potent psychological horror of note. The film, Kim's third feature, drew inspiration from the Joseon-era folktale of "Janghwa Hongryeon jeon", a dark domestic tale that has inspired no less than five previous Korean films along with the moderately successful 2009 American remake "The Uninvited". The film also claimed a number of awards during its time, most noticeably winning actress Lim Soo-jung the Best New Actress award at both the 2003 Blue Dragon Film Awards and at the Pusan International Film Festival, and remains a favourite among Korean cinephiles and horror buffs.
"A Tale of Two Sisters" follows Soo-mi (Lim Soo-jung) and Soo-yeon (Moon Geun-young), two troubled sisters who, after returning from a psychiatric hospital, experience a number of disturbing incidents involving their sinister stepmother (Eun-joo played by Yum Jung-ah). The girls' resent their father (Kim Kap-soo as Moo-hyeon), shunning him with sharp words and cold shoulders while they endure their stepmom's contemptuously cruel presence. This fractured family live in a country estate surrounded by fresh air, crystal lakes, and plenty of greenery to facilitate psychological healing. However despite the tranquil setting and earthy environment, a corrosive agent of sinister seduction is eating away at one of the young girl's mind, a demonic disease that manifests itself in madness and psychic distress.
It's a compelling and intriguing film enriched with complex symbolism, thoughtful compositions, and a narrative that will keep you on edge and thinking long after Kim fades to black. Blood oozes from pressed floorboards underfoot, pockets of abusive acts echo around the estate, and one never really trusts what Kim is showing us which makes the horror on display that much more malicious and maddening. Viewers will be familiar with the relationship dynamics between the girls and their cryptic stepmother; tensions that result in insolence that actress Lim Soo-jung nails with just a flash of her mistrusting and confused orbs. Like the creaking house itself, the relationships within are constantly being warped and re-examined under rising pressure as Kim keeps the mystery twisting and bubbling throughout.
While the film is a wondrously fascinating event, it is not one that matures or shines after multiple viewings. This surprised me somewhat because normally such a psychological endeavour should at least be able to pull me along for a solid second viewing. However I was not as impressed the second time around and found the film had lost a lot of its cutting edge. That being said, the film remains one of my favourite Korean horrors of all-time, and so even though the second date may not impress, "A Tale of Two Sisters" is still an unmissable thrill that will tease and pleases newcomers without a second thought.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA and Amazon
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