A Tale of Two Sisters was one of the first South Korean movies to make a dent in the US during the initial influx of Korean cinema, which was spearheaded by Park Chan-wook. This film’s director, Kim Jee-woon, had a major release with this film around the same time as Park’s Oldboy. Korean cinema has gone from strength to strength ever since, with Parasite winning Best Film at the Oscars last year.
This is an interesting horror film about Su-Mi, a teenage girl who has been released from a mental institution. She returns to her family’s rural home, where she finds her sister Su-Yeon, father and stepmother waiting for her. The girls have a complicated relationship with the stepmother. Events become increasingly strange as things go along, and their relationship sours even more. Su-Mi’s psychosis is reflected in the breakdown of reality around her, making the film a very disorienting experience.
I would say it’s a little overly confusing for its own good, and it’s a slow burner, which is not necessarily uncommon in Korean cinema. The flashbacks pile twist upon twist, coming at such a rapid rate that it can become hard to follow. The plot is definitely interesting though, and the design of the house is really good at creating a creepy atmosphere. There is also a supernatural element with a ghost. While not as good as Bong Joon-Ho’s films (Parasite and Memories of Murder), but if you like Korean cinema it’s well worth seeing. It’s definitely creepy, but didn’t pull me in the way some other Korean films have. Park has gone on to do a number of notable films since, including mobster movie Bittersweet Life and I Saw the Devil, a serial killer/horror film.
The Arrow Blu-Ray release features an incredibly rich set of extras. These three film commentary tracks: a new audio commentary from Korean cinema historian Pierce Conran and film critic James Marsh, plus two audio commentaries from Kim Jee-woon: one with lighting cameraman Oh Seung-chul and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae, and one with actors Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young. In addition, there is a visual essay by Conran (Always on the Move: The Dynamic Camera and Spaces of Master Stylist Kim Jee-woon), a new visual essay by cultural historian Shawn Morrisey, Spirits of the Peninsula: Folklore in Korean Cinema; and a new visual essay by critic/historian Kat Ellinger, Imaginary Beasts: Memory, Trauma & the Uncanny in A Tale of Two Sisters. There is also a behind-the-scenes featurette and an archival featurette about the set design; three more archival featurettes about the score, CGI effects and poster design; two featurettes with Kim in which the director analyses the film’s complex themes and discusses the horror genre; and even a featurette presenting a psychologist’s perspective. The package also includes outtakes, archival set footage, a variety of cast interviews, deleted scenes with director’s commentary, stills and the theatrical trailer, all in a nice reversable sleeve with newly commissioned artwork.