Let me start this review by apologising. There is no way I can really describe how much I adore every aspect of this movie. The irony is that I first saw it a few years ago, whilst in my J-Horror prime, and only enjoyed it as a high quality horror movie. However, my ability to watch movies has increased greatly in the interim, and now I understand this to be a masterpiece.
“A Tale of Two Sisters” tells the story of of Su-Mi (Lim Su-jeong)recently returned from a stay in Hospital. She lives with her Father (Kim Kap-su), her Sister Su-Yeon (Moon Geun-Young), and her Step-Mother (Yum Jung-ah). This is not a happy household though, and events quickly take a disquieting turn. I am going to say no more. To do so would be to ruin the experience. Let me just say things are never quite what they seem.
Director Kim Ji-woon has already had a fair bit of love on Things Fall Apart, but to my mind this is his crowning glory. It is in the running to be judged one of the most most beautiful films ever. It is not just the amazing images he presents to us, but the astonishing use of camera movement to create alternately space and claustrophobia.
The casting is perfect. Lim Su-jeong and Moon Geun-young could be real sisters, not just because of their similar features, but because you really feel their sororal connection.
Although the movie is a horror story on the face of it, it is really a dark psychological family drama. It is a story of guilt and remorse, and the effect these ghosts have on individuals.
However there are scares here. Kim subtly (and occasionally more forcefully) pays homage lots of classic horror styles – J-Horror most obviously, but Giallo (in terms of style and themes of madness and paranoia) is also obvious. Grand Guignol is also evident, as you could consider the house itself a major cast member.
To be brutally honest, it is tough to follow the first time. The Audience has to work hard. The story is not always presented in a linear fashion (especially during the third act). It is upon the second viewing that the real magic happens.
It carefully plays with your sympathies. You empathise with a character, only to have the dark truth exposed. You detest another, to find your opinion has been jaundiced, only to find a horrible reality. Even the Father, beautifully underplayed, with whom you feel an awful lot of sympathy, may have a much darker side to his story only hinted at by one scene and one line of dialogue.
I want to say a lot more. However, I have no way to do so, without either doing the film a disservice, nor giving away plot elements. I urge you to find this film. Marvel and enjoy.