A Tale of Two Sisters
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The plot of "A Tale of Two Sisters" evokes classic Grimm fairy tales of children being victimized by a cruel elder. In this case, we are dealing with two teenaged sisters who have returned from an extended hospital stay to the country estate of their wealthy physician father and his sadistic new wife. Their mother has died under mysterious circumstances. It is also not clear whether the sisters' ailments were physical or mental.
Under director Kim Jee-Woon's sure hands, the film grows creepier by the minute. Although the lavish home has beautiful gardens and spacious, well-furnished rooms, there is something off about them from the start--especially the ornate floral wallpaper that begins to almost pulsate when the camera hones in on it. The wallpaper evokes toxicity and danger, not comfort and reassurance. Eventually it becomes along with the house itself a kind of actor in this Gothic tale, a Korean version of the house described by Edgar Allen Poe in "Fall of the House of Usher":
"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was --but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible."
It would seem that Kim Jee-Woon has a flair for macabre tales set in country estates. His 1998 "The Quiet Family" is a black comedy about a family that moves to the country to run a bed and breakfast. When guests feel inspired one after one to commit suicide in the house, the family works overtime to conceal the bodies. Besides sharing a creepy house with "A Tale of Two Sisters," the two films share a father figure who seems impervious to everything around them. In "Two Sisters," the father is blissfully unaware of the strange goings on in his house. In "The Quiet Family," the father rises from the dinner table, walks off screen, and proceeds to kick the family dog, before returning to the table to resume eating as nothing has happened. In a voice-over, his daughter explains that the tension of disposing of all the corpses has gotten to him.
It is not clear whether the director's avoidance of special
effects is driven by a tight budget or by style. Whatever the case, "A
Tale of Two Sisters" is far more expert in the tools that it works with
than the typically bloated
"A Tale of Two Sisters" has the same kind of
ambiguity as Henry James's "Turn of the Screw." Even in the final
scenes, we are never quite sure whether the gruesome events taking place are in
the children's minds or actually taking place. In the conventional
Kim Jee-Woon was clearly inspired
by "Ringu," the Japanese flick that was
remade in the
All of these works also share a sense that the nuclear
family is falling apart at the seams. For the better part of two decades,
In an interview, Kim-Jee Woon answered the question about the relationship of his movies to reality in the following manner:
"I think a movie is at the borderline between the reality and some other world. For me, expressing the real world with the real language is not very fun. But, expressing the real world with fantastic, film language is more fun. I think that film is a door from the real world to the other world, to the other side…And ultimately, film is about digging from another world into what's going on in the reality."
"A Tale of Two Sisters" opens in NYC at