#283 -- A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Director: Jee-woon Kim
Rating: 3.5 / 5

I had been waiting to see this ever since the last time that I watched The Uninvited, which is its American remake. It took me longer than it should have to link the two movies together, but once I did, I knew I had to see this one. I knew that it was going to be very different than its American counterpart, but I never imagined just how different it would be. It actually shocked me at first, and I wan't sure what to think of it. I'm still not entirely sure what to take away from this movie, but you can be sure that it's different.

A Tale of Two Sisters is about a family that is seemingly full of mentally unstable people. The first of the move shows us the two sisters, Su-Yeon and Su-Mi, returning home from a mental hospital. We only ever saw Su-Mi at the hospital, so it's safe to assume that Su-Yeon was simply accompanying their father to pick her sister up, and that she was never admitted into the hospital herself. She, in fact, seems to be the most mentally stable of the bunch. Their father seems a bit reclusive and isn't seen very much; their stepmother seems a bit overbearing and quick with punishments, and Su-Mi seems quick to anger and slow to trust. Su-Yeon is a shy girl who only seems to deal with her relatives' issues. She follows her sister everywhere and does what she says, she cowers before her stepmother, and I can't remember her ever even interacting with her father.

It is quickly made obvious just how little Su-Mi trusts her stepmother. There are several arguments between the two which seem a bit trivial at first, but make a little sense once you realize what's going on in Su-Mi's head. When she discovers some marks on Su-Yeon, she is certain that their stepmother is to blame. She confronts the woman, and she admits to punishin Su-Yeon, by locking her away in a wardrobe in her bedroom. This seems bad enough to begin with, but by the end of the movie it is expanded upon in a scene that is extremely cruel and disturbing.

Meanwhile, Su-Mi is plagued by nightmarish figures appearing before her, and it seems that there could possibly be some sort of spirit lurking in their house, and that it might be that of the girls' dead mother.

There are a couple of ways that this one differs from most Asian horror movies; or the ones I've seen, at least. It does rely on atmosphere, as most do, but it doesn't rely as much on spookiness. There are no creepy ladies with long black hair crawling around on ceilings here. What could make this movie scary to some is the idea of what might be. It isn't nearly as in-your-face as the American remake. It doesn't give you every detail of the story, which might turn some people away. It definitely shocked and confused me. Most of the details are left up to the imagination, and you have to interpret the things you'r seeing in order to figure it out. Sometimes I like movies like this, since there's never just one clear meaning. The movie is what you make it out to be. I went into this having already seen the remake, and I thought that maybe the two would play out a little similarly. They didn't. That was where I went wrong; that's why the movie confused me so much: because it went in a different direction than the one I was sure it was going to take. It was somewhat similar to the remake, but again, it wasn't quite as up front about it.

[spoilers ahead]

My interpretation comes from a line said by the girls' stepmother. "You want to forget something. Totally wipe it out of your mind. But you never can. It can't go away, you see. It follows you around like a ghost." There were hints throughout the movie that there might be a spirit in their house, but I think the only ghost present was the ghost of regret. In the end, it is revealed that Su-Yeon had been dead all along, and it is plain to see that Su-Mi is not in her right state of mind, and that she might have (most likely did) killed her sister. It is not completely clear to me, but I believe she locked her away in that wardrobe to starve to death while trying to claw her way out. The things that she was seeing, the assumptions she was making about her stepmother: they were all ways that her mind was trying to erase the evil thing she had done. She still saw her sister every day, everywhere she went, and her mind created this situation in which she was not the guilty one. She placed the blame on her stepmother, an outsider, rather than feel the weight on her own shoulders.

[end of spoilers]

A Tale of Two Sisters is not a movie for everyone. The pacing is quite slow, and there aren't any real scares here. The scares are entirely in the viewers' minds, as we imagine the evil things taking place. If you're a fan of those creepy movies like Ringu and Ju-On, with those creepy long-haired women on ceilings, you're not going to find that here. If you enjoy the creepy atmosphere of those same movies, you won't find that here either. It is full of bright colors, a wonderful summertime setting, and the music was very soothing to me. The things taking place and the way we see them are totally contradictory. You feel like things should be happy there, but they're not. That's what makes the atmosphere creepy. It's a subtle sort of terror, unlike what most horror movies strive for. Again, it's not for everyone. Some, like me, might be a bit confused at first. Director Jee-woon Kim gives a lot of credit to his audience, and he lets us figure things out for ourselves rather than slapping us in the face with facts. You really have to think about this one if you're to completely understand it. I still don't completely understand it, but I've got my own ideas and interpretations. That's exactly what you'll have to take away from the movie as well.

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