VINE VOICEon 15 December 2007
Described as the 'most frightening film since Ring' and a mix of psychological horror, ghost story and drama, A Tale of Two Sisters is a truly complex film with great depth, good performances, technological perfection, and a few scares. In truth it is vastly different from Ringu, but naturally with every Asian Horror movie featuring a long-haired, scary looking girl comparisons will be made. True, Ringu is the master, but this is of an entirely different breed. If you are a fan of Ringu, Asian horror movies in general then this is definitely one to see before the Hollywood remake, but be warned- it is difficult the first time round, and will likely not be what you expected.
The film begins in a psychiatric hospital, a doctor tries to get a young girl, Soo-Yeun to explain what has happened in her past. We then apparently flash back and meet two sisters, Soo-yeun and Soo-mi, their father and step-mum. The sisters are very close, but they have no respect for their father, and hate their step-mum. We do not know why. Soo-mi is quieter, Soo-yeun is protective of her and will not let any harm come to her. They have returned from a mental hospital but we do not know why. There is a coldness in the house, and a lack of understanding. The father seems passive, unable to understand his kids or relate to his partner, while the step-mum is very strange, ranging from cruel to hysterically happy. Soon strange things begin to happen in the house, noises, frightening ghosts appear, or perhaps they are hallucinations. The whole house is affected, but we do not know if it an evil power in the house, the threatening demeanour of the step-mum, or if it is all just a mirage. The parents cannot stand the behaviour of the kids anymore, and a confrontation ensues where we finally learn the startling, emotional truth.
For the majority of the film, the viewer will have little idea as to what is going on. Unfortunately this does not always work for the best- true the plot keeps us guessing, but there are perhaps too many twists to confuse us. This is deliberate of course, and we get a true sense of the madness which can come from guilt and anger, although it may be too overwhelming for some. This is a pity as it is a very good film, and must be watched right to the end before any questions are really answered. However, if you enjoy many twists and being kept in a loop then few films are better than this. Admittedly some, including myself will be taken in by the tag-line, by other reviews, and will expect another terrifying time. However, the scary Ringu/Ju-on style scares are few, and the distance between them is long, ensuring frustration for those who want to be scared. When they come though they are intense, and will get the hairs on your arms reaching for the sky. Those are the only complaints I can have with the film, and for a fan of clever films they are minor.
The film's depth is unquestionable, amazing when considering it was based on a simple, popular Korean folk tale. We do not know what will happen next, or why, and we are left thinking about it for a long time after it is over. Luckily the DVD has much explanatory documentaries and interviews which will help. The music is extremely good, mixing the noises which worked to such great effect in Ringu, with touching string numbers to add to the emotional impact. The camera-work is breathtaking, with many innovative angles which will have you on edge, and the tension created is admirable. The editing is deserving of much respect as we get many quick flashbacks, false ones and true ones to past events which may or may not have happened in the way they are shown. The film looked beautiful, and the scenery is haunting. Lastly, the performances by the small cast are each excellent. Geon-yeung Mun is impressive as Soo-yeon, painfully showing the madness she feels. Kap-su Kim as the father is vacant and cold, seems to have lost any emotions he once had, and tired by all around him. Su-jeong Lim as Soo-mi is very sympathetic, and although she has little to say, conveys everything with her eyes well. The stand-out though is Jung-ah Yum as the step-mum, her wildly changing face and actions are astounding and she is genuinely creepy. We are never certain of how she will act, but know that every second she is on screen is a marvel. To summarise, definitely see this if you are a fan of Asain movies as it is a masterpiece of depth and direction, but there are more immediately scary films out there in the same vein. This will have a lasting effect on you though. This is near perfect thriller, and an above average horror.
This special edition has tonnes of extra features, from deleted scenes, to interviews with the cast, and an in depth documentary with the director. These all prove interesting after watching the film, and offer some explaination to the events of the film and to the film making process. If only all DVDs were presented like this...