A Tale of Two Sisters
directed by Kim Jee-Woon
(Tartan, 2005)

A Tale of Two Sisters is billed as a horror movie, but please don't confuse this fascinating, multi-layered story with the sort of simple-minded horror films coming out of Hollywood. The stigma attached to horror movies in the West doesn't apply when you talk about Asian horror -- solely because Asian filmmakers continue to develop horror as an art form built upon subtlety, complexity and the deepest of human emotions. A Tale of Two Sisters is high art indeed. There are some genuinely creepy scenes in this movie, but that is not where the true horror of the story lies -- and that is what makes this such a mesmerizing movie.

This isn't a simple tale, as it starts you out feeling a little unbalanced and compels you to figure out what is really going on as reality and fantasy begin to blur more and more. You might be confused at more than one point. And then, once you've had your ah-ha moment, the film continues to pull you down dark, twisted paths. This is truly an unforgettable film that virtually compels you to watch it through a second time.

When you see this film -- and you really should see it -- it's important you leave your Westernized expectations behind you. This isn't about things that go bump in the night -- although, as I've said, several scenes are deliciously creepy. This is a tragic and exceedingly human story about the love between two sisters, terrible events that shatter the lives of their whole family and the debilitating effect that regret can have on a person.

I am not even going to describe the plot of the film here because it should be seen without any expectations. The film is so complex and beautifully structured that every little thing that happens is important. That's why a second viewing leaves you even more impressed than you were after the first viewing. Kim Jee-Woon is a true craftsman of the art of moviemaking, and young Su-jeong Lim and Geun-yeong Mun are really quite amazing in their portrayal of the tragic sisters.

Some seem to find the film too confusing, and I'm not sure why this is. It's true that the story invokes flashbacks at times, but there are plenty of clues along the way -- and the main revelations are quite forcefully presented. In a sense, the movie moves forward in order to take you backward, back to a beginning in which all things are made clear. It's a rich and amazingly moving way to tell a story, especially when that story resonates with as much emotional power as this one.

review by
Daniel Jolley

15 March 2008

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