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An Unbearably Beautiful "Tale:" A Masterpiece of Horror
Because there were so many great movies released from 2000 to 2009, it would seem like an arduous task to choose just one film that would top all the others. After all, that was the decade that saw the likes of such gems like Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and many others.
However, when all is said and done, there was only ever one film that challenged me, frightened me, haunted me and devastated me more than any other film released that decade. Said film is, in fact, so mesmerizing and powerful that it deserves to be mentioned alongside other cinematic treasures like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, The Exorcist and Casablanca. The movie is none other than Kim Ji-Woon's 2003 juggernaut A Tale of Two Sisters.
Words can not even begin to describe what a fascinating movie this is. To simply call it a horror film is a great injustice, for while the film is scary, it is also much more than that. For starters, A Tale of Two Sisters is a movie about the repercussions of sin, as everything bad that happens in the film seems to stem from one character's act of betrayal against his wife, which ends up having an effect on every member of his family.
It's also a complex look at guilt and how people struggle to find redemption. In fact, the film's somewhat Biblical opening shot shows someone 'cleansing their hands,' and the rest of the movie is motivated by the characters trying to wash away the guilt of something that is going to be with them the rest of their lives, no matter what they do.
Finally, the movie is an absorbing and devastating look at a young soul that has been sadly damaged beyond repair. To go into too much detail about about this would meaning spoiling some of the story turns in the final third, which is something I have absolutely no desire to do. Let it be said, though, that one viewing of A Tale of Two Sisters is not at all enough, since the movie has so many layers to it that it's nigh impossible to catch everything on the first viewing.
Take the scene, for instance, where the older sister, Soo-Mi (Su-jeong Lim, turing in a sensational performance), finds her younger sister, Soo-yeon (Geun-young Moon, also amazing), locked in a closet after being attacked by their wicked stepmother (Jung-ah Yum). One will no doubt be touched by Soo-Mi's words and actions as she tries to comfort her sister, but it isn't until you revisit the movie that you'll truly understand why this scene qualifies as the single most heartbreaking scene I've witnessed that decade. Honestly, I was fighting back tears when I revisited the movie.
The climax of the movie is especially terrific in the way it immerses you completely inside one character's damaged mind. Other movies had tried to accomplish what A Tale of Two Sisters seems to accomplish with ease. By this point, you are no longer merely an observer. Like every great movie, the director manages so beautifully to make you live and experience everything the character is living and experiencing that you soon start to feel the fear, confusion and hopelessness that the does. It is truly a cinematic out of body experience.
Then there is the relationship between the two sisters Soo-mi and Soo-yeon, which is both sincere and compelling. I dare anyone to watch the scene between the two of them where the older sister teaches the younger to whistle, and not smile during the scene. I dare anyone not to be touched by the scene where Soo-yeon crawls in her sister's bed after someone sneaks into her room at night, scaring her.
Everything about this movie is pitch perfect. The acting is superb. The story is intricately structured and flawlessly paced. The cinematography and the use of colors are simply hypnotic. This is such a vibrantly visualized movie - complete with stark green and red hues - that you could turn the sound off and still be amazed by it. There is one shot in particular that takes my breath away every time I see it: It shows the stepmother, who is dressed in a lavender gown, sitting in front of these two blood red closet doors. Press pause during that shot and tell me that it isn't as luminous as a painting.
No other film released that decade can hold a candle to this beautiful film. This is especially true of the wretched 2009 remake of this film, The Uninvited, which did nothing but show how this material should not be handled. This movie is, quite simply, in a league of its own. This isn't just the best film of that decade; this is one of the ten best movies ever made.
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)