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Review of "A Tale of Two Sisters"
Recorded and released in 2003, A Tale of Two Sisters is a South Korean horror film directed and written by the well-known Kim Ji-woon. According to Wikipedia, it is the highest-grossing horror film in all of Korea and the first to be screened in the U.S. It also gave rise to the American remake, The Uninvited.
The plot follows the story of a young girl, Su-Mi, who is pulled out of a mental institution and must try to adapt to home life with her sister and mean-spirited step-mother. Her rather helpless father, Moo-hyeon, seems nescient to the cause of his daughter's strife. A psychological drama with elements of horror, the film leaves some aspects ambiguous and contains multiple twists.
As there are plenty of plot synopses of the film on the internet, I'll be reviewing the quality of the film overall, and not provide a summary of its events.
Early in the movie, we see the strong bond between Su-Mi and her younger sister, The same is not the case with their step-mother, whom both detest and ignore. The father, never directly addressing the younger sister, constantly expresses his bewilderment at his eldest's behavior. The characters are developed well enough, with the father showing obvious love and concern, but still clueless and ineffective.
The film is said to be a horror, yet contains only a few scary moments, along with a couple missed attempts. For instance, the movie communicates well with visualizations, yet places more emphasis at some parts of the film than is necessary. It does, however, earn major points by balancing the psychological aspect with the supernatural, never letting the viewer fully know what reality for these events truly is. Was there ever, at any point, a spirit influencing or acting, or was it all, as we see, in Su-Mi's head?
After much emotional strife between all four family members, it is revealed, climatically, that Su-Mi's sister died before the events of the film and that Su-Mi was acting as her step-mother the entire time, unbeknownst to her. This concept, while not particularly unique, in itself, is uniquely and effectively delivered and presented.
At times in the film, there are Su-Mi's dream sequences that are obviously fictional, and we are supposed to be taken aback when she suddenly wakes up. I cannot, for the life of me, say I ever felt scared by the film. I make it a point to give any proclaimed horror a chance with the setting in which I watch it, yet the only time I could point out a scene which was true horror was when the dinner guest was clearly haunted after convulsing at the dinner and then retelling what she saw.
So, 1 scary moment does not equal a horror movie of any kind, though it tries. Other than that, the plot and characters earn top marks, even in the genre of psychological drama, and not horror. The ending leaves a satisfying amount of ambiguity, as well. 7/10
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