‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ Review

2003. A Tale of Two Sisters - Image courtesy of Tartan Video USASouth Korea. 115 minutes.
Tartan Video USA. Region 1. NTSC.
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon.
With Yeom Jeong-A, Im Soo-Jung, Moon Geun-Young, Kim Kab-Su

A car drives through a beautiful rural countryside and stops outside a peaceful house surrounded by blooming flowers near a lake. Two sisters emerge, and immediately it becomes clear that they are close. The older one looks after the younger, and they run hand in hand to a dock in the lake, where feet dangle in the water and clouds are gazed upon.

They head back to the house, to a cool reception from their stepmother. It’s not the homecoming they wanted, as it becomes clear they have spent a long time elsewhere. At dinner that night, tension between stepmom, the girls, and their gray-haired father become even more apparent.

Father and stepmom retire to bed — though father sneaks off to sleep alone in his study — and the girls go to their separate rooms. One of them begins hearing noises in the night; she is soon joined under the covers by her equally unsettled sibling. The house is not so peaceful after all, and the family has definitely seen better days.

We know something is not right from the first very scene, in which a girl is brought in to see a psychiatrist in some kind of institutional setting. So when the car begins winding along mountain roads, we realize we’re watching a recreation of what happened that caused the young lady to wind up talking to a shrink. In that respect, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS plays like a puzzle picture, in which the audience must figure out from whose point of view the story on screen is being told.

Beyond the thin conceit of the puzzle, which admittedly irritated me during my first viewing of the film, TWO SISTERS digs deeper into family relationships. It demonstrates the profound impact that one member of the family can have upon the others. It also shows that emotional turmoil may begin like a rock dropped into still water — rippling slowly, ever expanding outward.

Make no mistake — TWO SISTERS is a horror movie. It has its share of shocks and blood, and the second half of the film rachets up the tension, all the way to a gut-wrenching, bittersweet conclusion that is open to interpretation.

Still, it’s the psychological horrors layered upon an emotional family drama and an overriding sense of sadness and loss that make TWO SISTERS distinctive, and allow it to languish in the memory.

* DVD Notes *

Tartan USA’s DVD is a fine way to catch up with the film if you weren’t able to see it in a cinema. The colors play a big part in the effectiveness of the production, and here they are accurately reproduced, and the audio packs a sufficient wallop. Both DD 5.1 and DTS Korean-language tracks are included.

The removable English subtitles are clear, well-timed, and easy to read. Spanish subtitles are also included.

Supplements include two audio commentaries, both Korean-language with English subtitles. I listened to the one featuring the director, cinematographer, and lighting director: the three gentlemen are polite and often laugh together, even as the cinematographer and lighting director express their disagreement with some of the decisions made by the director. The director notes that he intended to make a psychological film rather than a straight horror flick. The other commentary features the director and members of the cast.

What’s billed as “original promotional footage” is the Korean theatrical trailer (with the Tartan logo added to the front).

My understanding is that was to be a two-disk edition, with the second disk presumably including the advertised cast interviews, “psychiatrist’s perspective,” documentaries, and trailers, but the copy I rented from a local video shop only included one disk.

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