Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters) (2003)
South Korea (dir. Kim Jee-Woon)
Cast: Im Sun-yeong, Yeom Jeong-ah, Kim Gab-su
Synopsis: Inspired by a Korean legend, this is the odyssey of two sisters, who after spending time in a mental institution, return to the home of their father and cruel stepmother. Their recovery is affected by their stepmother’s increasing cruelty, together with appearances of the ghost of their mother, which creates an atmosphere of strange occurrences and irrepressible fear.
Review: This is likely one of the few Asian horror movies that will actually terrify you. Many other original Asian horror classics tend to be rich in suspense and build up, but falter when it comes to the actual “scary” parts. A Tale of Two Sisters relies heavily on surrealistic sequences that lead you to question what is real and what is fantasy. Just like another Asian horror film (Audition), the ending of the movie becomes a bit of a garbled mess of surrealism – it basically turns into an all out Lynchian fantasy sequence where nothing is real anymore (or so you are led to believe). This is also another film that relies heavily on silence and tension. Sure there are gross-out scenes and pure outright horror sequences, but for the most part the film slowly and steadily reveals itself, and greatly relies on your patience as a viewer (as is customary in many Asian horror films).
In terms of the acting, I highly commend Yeom Jeong-ah who plays the “evil” step-mother. She has this bizarre countenance that is occasionally spiked with completely outrageous fits of violence. It’s hard to play someone who is so evil, yet carries themselves as a seemingly normal person. I think Jeong-ah does a great job with this role, and from the first instance of her being on screen, you can totally understand what I mean. She delivers many lines with absolute perfection, and although I sadly don’t speak or understand Korean, I can completely understand her emotions in any scene based solely upon her vocal intonations or by the flash of her piercing eyes. She is something that is sadly missing from any Hollywood horror film, and that is a damn shame.
Due to the surrealistic nature of the film, I have to admit that it is somewhat difficult to figure out the ending of this film. I did come to understand that one of the sisters basically is envisioning that she is actually two sisters and the step-mother, which leads you to question whether the step-mother is even real to begin with or just a part of the girl’s imagination. The other sister is definitely real, since the father admits she was dead all along. I found it much more interesting when the girl envisions that she is the step-mother. My belief is that there actually was a step-mother, but the girl envisioned that there was an evil side to the step-mother and her personality disorder allowed her to “become” the evil step-mother in her head. You’re probably thinking to yourself right now… “WTF?” but that’s just how the cookie crumbles when it comes to surrealistic movies. Worth seeing more than once… likely 3 times so as to ultimately understand what is going on. Enjoyable if you like the genre, but otherwise it will not entertain you in the slightest.