A Tale of Two Sisters
Inspired by the Korean folk tale Janghwa Heungryeonjeon, this changes the title slightly to Janghwa, Hongryeon but keeps the central theme of two sisters who hate their stepmother. It begins in a hospital with a doctor asking a young woman questions about who she thinks she is, if she recognises a photograph of her family and if she would tell him what happened 'that day'. It then jumps to two girls, Su-yeon and Su-mi arriving with their father at his country house. They obviously don't want to go inside and delay the inevitable by going to the jetty and sitting for a while with their feet dangling in the lake. Called into the house, the woman who greets them is unbelievably friendly and cheery so they completely blank her and go upstairs. Su-yeon, the elder sister, is upset by the contents of their wardrobe, a row of identical outfits and items that have been placed around her room without her permission. This seems to damage her already frail mental state as both sisters have just been released from a sanatorium following a breakdown when their mother died.
There is something amiss between their father and stepmother as he chooses to sleep downstairs in the office whilst she is alone in their double bed upstairs and her behaviour fluctuates from stern to hysterical. At a dinner party for her brother-in-law and wife, she insists on telling a story about a man who went crazy every time it rained even though none of them seem to know what she is talking about so, without a word, her husband gets up and places two tablets in front of her.
Meanwhile, Su-yeon is deeply protective of Su-mi and, during their first night there, her younger sister has her period so Su-yeon takes charge and sneaks into her stepmother's room to get some sanitary towels and replaces the sheet. When asked if she is having her period, Su-yeon answers that it's Su-mi, not her, and her stepmother curiously replies 'Why would we both have our period at the same time?' The stepmother's behaviour and attitude to the sisters is far from ideal and there is a mutual hostility which isn't helped by slightly supernatural events such as doors opening of their own accord occurring in the house.
This may sound extremely vague but I am erring on the side of caution so as not to spoil this - I could mention something that seems completely innocuous but would ruin the film so apologies if the outline is lacking in clarity.
There is a pervading atmosphere of unease and some real jumps - writer/director Kim Ji-woon really knows how to keep an audience on edge and the sound design really helps. When footsteps move across the room, they really move across your room and the combination of quick cuts and aural stabs don't relieve the tension, they use it to maximum effect.
A Tale of Two Sisters is a magnificent film, certainly my favourite Korean horror and one of the best from Asia. When you reach the end, you need to go back to the beginning and watch it again and it's one that improves with every viewing as once you know the story you can appreciate every little nuance and intricacy in the construction. It is magnificently acted by the four principal cast members and, in a small twist of fate, Gianna Jun refused Kim's request to play Su-mi because she thought the script was too scary but then went on to play the lead in 4 Inyong shiktak (The Uninvited). Kim proves to be a filmmaker of real talent who weaves a complex and moving story and executes it with real flair. As Asian horror films go (and genre films in general), this is up there with the best of the decade.
All there is is a making of presented in standard definition, so nothing new for this Blu-ray release. This is a decent piece, running at over 20 minutes with b-roll footage, interviews and other behind the scenes footage and whilst not a structured or particularly in depth piece, is interesting nonetheless.
Tartan previously released a 2-disc special edition DVD which contained myriad features including two commentaries, deleted scenes and interviews. Considering Tartan already had the rights to this material, it beggars belief that this disc is only a BD25 containing the single behind the scenes featurette.
Beautifully clear with superb colurs and contrast levels, this HD picture is quite brilliant and is only let down by occasional white spotting. Kim Ji-woon storyboarded very carefully and his camera placement adds to the sense of unease with odd angles, overhead shots and strange cuts. The attention paid to costuming and set and production design is evident and the film is beautifully lit and shot.
With a choice of both lossless formats: DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, you get two superb soundtracks which you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference between in a blind test. When there are unexplained noises, such as footsteps running across the ceiling, they really sounded like they were running across the room above me and the jumps are delivered with a real jolt to the system.
I hoped that the audio wouldn't allow me to settle and they delivered everything I wanted with excellent separation, crisp dialogue and a genuinely unnerving soundtrack helped by the haunting score.
The subtitles are as good as you could expect: clear, easy to read and error free.
A Tale of Two Sisters is a masterpiece of modern horror that demands repeated viewings and the AV package and quality of the film makes this a very attractive proposition for any horror fan. However, in buying it you need to realise that there are more extras available than are contained on this disc which opens the door to a special edition somewhere down the line.