A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon) (2003)

I’m not sure what warranted the comparison, but “A Tale of Two Sisters” ultimately reminded me very much of “Hide and Seek”, the recent horror dud I had the misfortune of watching. Both films are very much similar in tone, theme, and concept, but make no mistake, they are not the same. In spite of its excellent cover, this isn’t entirely a horror film per se. This is more, in the sense, a supernatural drama that really manages to pinpoint the underlying themes of psychological trauma and childhood pain that, regardless of how much we try, can not ever come to grips with while telling one damn fine story. Such is the situation with this utterly beautiful masterpiece that paints itself as horror, but really ends up becoming an allegory for something completely different.

Pretty sisters Soo Mi, and Yu Jeon have just been released from a mental ward, forming a tight bond (and possibly incestuous relationship, as presented with many underlying themes during the story) with one another, and are taken to the countryside to a cabin the by their father Moo Hyeon, who takes them to the cabin to help them relax and recuperate. The two never travel outside the cabin’s area and mostly stick together relaxing, but their stepmother Eun Joo has other plans. As Soo Mi and Yu Jeon settle in, they soon begin getting plagued with horrible visions. They’re also being plagued with nightmares, being haunted by entities trying to sneak in to their room, and animals are turning up dead. Are these horrific images the specters and demons of their troubled childhood’s coming back to haunt them, or is someone trying to completely shatter their sanity?

Director Ji -Woon Kim directs such a bittersweet beautiful but often very macabre tale of childhood trauma and familial allegories that create layers of storytelling and subtext that surely made this experience worth the time invested. This, often times, twisted film, tells the story of this isolated scenery which creates this family’s own world within itself while Kim presents very resonant themes of incest, child abuse, and neglect that truly play at the audiences emotions.

Yum is eerie, very engrossing, and many times scene stealing as the antagonist wicked step mother often times taking pleasure in taunting the weakest of the two Yu Jeon. Yum is surpassed only by the movie-making pivotal role of Mi which Su-jeong Lim aces with quiet anger, and immense skill making her so involving in her very psychologically absorbing leading role. Though the film does give off the air of horror on occasion with very creepy moments, many of which gave me chills, this unravels by presenting deep symbolic themes and an increasingly esoteric story, that this, after its climax, becomes more about childhood demons coming back to haunt you, and your wicked demons still wreaking havoc on you in spite of how much you refuse to let go of the things that kept you sane.

Mi and Jeon grapple with her childhood traumas and demons throughout the picture, and eventually, during the shattering and heartbreaking climax, everything comes together. What Kim tries to convey is that childhood traumas are essentially the shattering point that either stay hidden or come back to seep up to haunt us for good, both of which eventually make or break us. The surprise stunning plot twist halfway through the film completely puts the pieces of the puzzle together for the audience, and serves for one of the best delivered climaxes in recent history, one that conventional Hollywood could never muster up. Kim closes the film with one last beautiful scene that perfectly sums up what we’ve just witnessed and really tugs at the audiences heartstrings. Essentially, Kim’s film becomes a beautiful twisted tale of love, childhood demons, symbolism, and gruesome revenge helped by excellent performances, and a well paced opus that truly unravels with layers of depth, and meaning. It’s truly a masterpiece in the end.