A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련)
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Written: Kim Jee-woon
Country: South Korea
In the movie “Hitchcock” there was a scene where director just told his wife that he wants to make book “Psycho” into a movie:
Alma: “That is nothing but a low-budget horror movie claptrap”
Hitchcock: „But what if someone really good made a horror picture? “
Indeed most horror movies end up being B-class, bloody, monster chasing claptraps. It takes a lot of skill to craft a story, that would be intense, scary, but not falling to absurd, and to narrate this story through the medium of film. As far as horror movies go, I always preferred Asian horror, especially Japanese. There is something about the intensity of silence, empty mise-en-scènes that make the atmosphere so intense and scary, even without “jump-from-your-seat” scenes. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a masterpiece of the genre.
The movie at first glance would seem like an “Evil Stepmother” story. Two sisters, Soo-mi and Soo-yeon, are abused by their stepmother Eun-joo, while father is ignorant to everything what happens in this lone, creepy house. However, throughout the whole movie you get the feeling that there is something else, as some events just do not make sense. Clue by clue the movie gives out the actual story. It keeps you guessing until the end and then sweeps the floor from under your feet. As to not give out any spoilers, I will just say that Jee-woon Kim crafted the story brilliantly – I liked the acting, sounds, colors, and consistent style of scenes. Some of scenes were a cliché horror –a bloody trail and full front ghost encounter. I think the scene where the ghost flew over the bed was unnecessary, implied horror is so strong in the movie that facing the ghost like this, with its creepy posture and eyes, makes the scene weaker. However those scenes do not affect the entire movie experience, which is very enjoyable all alone in the room with the lights turned off.
First Korean movie I reviewed was “Oldboy”, which also has ingenious plot twists. “Oldboy” explores emotion of revenge and “The Tale of Two Sisters” is exploring guilt (some Freudian notions of Electra’s complex are in the film as well). Both movies take the emotions to their extremes, amplifying possible perversity that they can cause.
The closest movie I can recall from Western hemisphere authors is David Cronenberg’s “Spider”, exploring how traumas affect human mind. Out of bigger perspective, “Tale of Two Sisters” and “Spider” also explore the essence of realty and how it is experienced by humans, especially how it is seen by mind affected by disease. As Albert Einstein famously said:
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.