In the beautifully written, filmed, & acted ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryon, 2004), Su-mi (Im Su-jeong) & Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong) are returning from the mental asylum where they have been kept since the death of their mother.
They are thrown into the unpleasant arms of a wicked stepmother (Jung-ah Yum). Their kindly but weak father (Bae Moo-hyeo) is incapable of understanding that his girls are in danger, let alone do anything about it.
There are so many genuinely spooky scenes in this thing: What's hiding under the sink? What's inside the wardrobe in the attic? What or who is in that bag of meat? What is coming for the girls cowering in their bed?
There is such nuance of meaning between wondering how much is psychological & schizophrenic & hallucinatory, & how much is an authentic supernatural event, & how much is simply about murder & psychosis.
There is a lot of influence in this South Korean film from the horror cinema of Japan, but it is an improvement on such Japanese films as Hideo Nakata's influential, quite good, but nevertheless over-praised Ringu (1998) & Takashi Shimizu even more overrated Ju-on (2003), because unlike most J-horror, A Tale of Two Sisters wants all its scary pieces to add up to something greater than the parts.
In a typical Japanese horror film, the idea of internal logic is not required, either because the screenwriters can't plot worth shit or because the very irrationality is part of what is supposed to be unsettling (to me it just ceases to be scary if the internal logic is so lacking that I can no longer suspend disbelief).
By comparison, in this seminal example of K-horror, plotting is perfect, & when the "reveal" is given near the end, the meaning of every single thing that happened up to then has to be reassessed.
Rather than a series of eerie but inconsistent incidents with a barely related climax such as one gets from most Japanese horror films, from the Korean Sisters we get a series of eerie incidents each one of which unveils another part of a greater mystery, plus a creepy resolution that puts it all in focus.
Of the new Asian horror making its way to the west, A Tale of Two Sisters is as good as it gets, a flawless masterpiece.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl