Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – South Korea: A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/04/2015 – South Korea: A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon) (2003)
Directed by Kim Jee-woon

South Korean horror may be a fairly new thing in terms of its popularity, but the genre there has emerged as one of the most notable in the world turning out films such as Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, Park Chan-wook’s Thirst, The Quiet Family (which was remade into the wonderful, albeit Japanese The Happiness of the Katakuris), and I Saw the Devil. Kim Jee-woon, director of the latter two as well as quite possibly my favorite modern Western (or at least since the turn of the century), The Good, The Bad, The Weird, has been at the forefront of that movement with A Tale of Two Sisters generally considered his most notable work in the genre. Unlike Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho (who made two of the best films of 2013 in Stoker and Snowpiercer respectively), Kim Jee-woon’s first foray into English language cinema, The Last Stand, failed to win him many admires.

There are plenty of twists to be had here even if they are hardly shocking. SPOILER TERRITORY HERE The twist of the sister being dead was pretty obvious throughout though thankfully the movie seemed to take it in stride that we knew that was true. The stepmother being alive, but not there was less apparent but they still pretty obvious considering the movie showing its hand early by having the father say he couldn’t do this alone anymore. The final major twist of there really being a ghost was also hardly shocking, undone by the fact that the movie didn’t end with Su-mi in the hospital and there was way too much time END OF SPOILERS. The film survives all this though by generally keeping me a bit lost as to what was actually happening (though I may just blame the state my head was in), but doing so in a way that felt natural within the story and didn’t piss me off. In addition, the film looks fantastic, and gets away with so much thanks to its visual style which manages to generate such dread.

Im Soo-jung later star of I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK plays a very different type of crazy as Su-mi and is able to generate plenty of sympathy playing such a tragic character. Yum Jung-ah does such a great job with BACK TO SPOILER TERRITORY what is essentially two roles managing to balance the crazy and menacing as well as the more uptight true self END OF SPOILERS. I was less impressed with Kim Kap-soo though who was too dull to generate interest and didn’t really bring anything to the table dramatically across from the two great performances.

A Tale of Two Sisters was remade as The Uninvited, a film I have been assured by both critics and a friend as being terrible unlike the American remake of yesterday’s Ringu. It was also the most recent remake of an Asian horror movie (aside from Godzilla which is tough classifying by genre and as remake/reboot/etc.) forming an unintentional bookend on that trend. The original though is a stylish if predictable and somewhat confusing horror movie that consistently managed to entertain.

Up Next: Paco Cabezas’s The Appeared representing Argentina.

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