Jee-woon Kim – Janghwa, Hongryeon AKA A Tale of Two Sisters [+Extras] (2003)

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Let’s start with my conclusion. This is a wonderful movie. It’s horror, drama and psychological thriller, all brilliantly compiled into a two hours movie. Superb cinematography, intricate plotting, marvelous acting… A Tale Of Two Sisters is extraordinary in every aspect.
Full review: Kairo@Classic-Horror

A dark old house that holds its secrets close. Two sisters tormented by an evil stepmother and clinging to one another for comfort while their aloof, ineffectual father hides in his work and tries to ignore the mounting tension in his household. The onset of puberty, the first spilling of menstrual blood, is marked by terrifying visitations. If, as A Tale of Two Sisters unfolds, you’re put in mind of a fairy tale—albeit by way of Angela Carter or Tanith Lee—you wouldn’t be wrong; the story is in part based on a Korean folk tale that’s made it to film several times before in that country. And yet this haunting retelling has an utterly original feel about it. In part this is due to a set of storytelling beats (that is, the actual timing of major scare sequences and revelations) that differ from those we’re accustomed to in Western film, lending an even more disorienting feel to the already off-kilter proceedings; largely, though, it is the combined effects of cinematographer Lee Mogae’s lush photography, Lee Byeong-Woo’s evocative score, and director Kim Jee-Woon’s ability to coax affecting and almost unbearably poignant performances from young actresses Im Soo-jung (as Su-mi) and Moon Geun-young (as her younger sister Su-yeon).
Full review: Lynda E. Rucker@StrangeHorizons

A Tale of Two Sisters refuses to fit neatly into any genre, though it is most commonly referred to as a horror film, and it is all the stronger for that. Director Kim obviously values ambiguity as a tool to keep the audience guessing, by refusing to follow a neat pattern he forces you out of any sense of easy familiarity and keeps the world of the film tilting and roiling in unexpected directions. This is a film that rewards multiple viewings thanks to the range of possible interpretations and the wealth of small details, unnoticed on first viewing, that will push you in one direction or another as you slowly pick them up.
Full review: Todd Brown@Twitch

The growing sense of dread and anxiety that pervades the movie puts it into the same league as its Japanese cousins Ringu, Dark Water and Ju-on. There are many similarities, and fans of the current wave of Asian horror movies, that also includes the Pang Brothers’ The Eye, will not be disappointed.
Full review: PixelSurgeon

A Tale of Two Sisters is a haunting, beautiful film that stands as my favorite among the cerebral thrillers in this year’s Danger After Dark lineup. Its superlative cinematography, art direction and sound design, combined with a host of slowly-developing scares and masterful pacing, make this one of the most accomplished genre films I’ve seen in recent years. Varying from somewhat familiar to wholly unexpected, the film’s major plot wrinkles are so expertly portrayed and unexpected that they make for a truly memorable viewing experience. (Seeing the film a second time is strongly suggested in order to understand the plot fully.) Composed with magnificent care and thought, A Tale of Two Sisters is essential contemporary horror viewing that earns my highest recommendation. See it without delay.
Full review: Michael Johnson@MonstersAtPlay

The spectacular, arresting posters (probably the best I’ve seen) promise the familiar (bloody young girls in their jammies) but also imply the film’s secret weapon: fantastic, haunting, and carefully controlled earth-tone imagery – devices often foregone in favor of a swirl of blank modernity and techno-static in their J-horror counterparts. In the poster, a domestic floral pattern creeps over the furniture, and in the movie, this same paisley arrangement almost fully overtakes the house, providing a falsely comforting backdrop for the grim mess that later unfolds, or splatters, upon it. Besides highlighting the regional differences in the genre, this is another testament to Kim’s photographic eye: in addition to his framing, he has an innate sense for off-putting textural juxtapositions and colors, which is perhaps more than you can say for his ability to arrange and sequence a scary movie. But, fortunately for us, that’s not a deficiency that makes this picture any less haunting.
Full review: Zachary Hines@FilmCritic

A Tale of Two Sisters is rapture. Relentless, terrifying, inexorable, it opens with the return of Soo-mi (Lim su-Jeong) to her family’s cottage after some time away at what we glean to be a mental institution. Acccompanying her home is sister Soo-yeon (Mun Geon-yeong) and father Moo-hyeon (Kim Kap-su), with her beautiful young stepmother Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah) waiting for the trio when they get there. It’s not long before the dreaming starts: Soo-mi sees an apparition at the foot of her bed in one of the most frightening reveals since the appearance of the upstairs neighbour in Dark Water, and director Kim reveals an extraordinarily deft hand balancing the delicate surface tension of suspense with a thematic richness that earns the picture a thesis or two somewhere down the line. It’s a gynaecological horror film, a menstrual anxiety movie, a ghost story, a travelogue of sin and guilt, and a coming-of-age melodrama–all of it wrapped around a feeling of fecundity that’s almost visceral.
Full review: Walter Chaw@FilmFreakCentral

I have to admit that I was not very positive when I started watching this despite all the positive reviews that it had gotten. I had flipped through scenes in the movie before watching it and I didn’t think that it looked very promising but I was wrong. While they still haven’t been able to get away completely from the long-haired ghost girl that seems to be included in every new Asian horrormovie, this still plays more like a suspenseful and dramatic thriller than a ghost story since you only get small hints that the house is haunted all the time.

I was not surprised to see that Ji Woon Kim had done an amazing job on directing this film since I loved his previous work on the segment “Memories” from the movie “Three”.
I did have mixed feelings about the acting though. While the two girls playing the sisters managed to create that sister feeling excellently, and the stepmother handled her role
very well, I still thought that the father could have done a whole lot better. He never really seemed to care about what was going on in the house.

Obviously this movie has a good, or at least a complex story since it fills up almost 2 hours of running time. It’s not often that two hours pass by just like that and
that’s exactly what it felt like when I was watching this movie. I wonder what we can expect next from Ji Woon Kim, if his future works will be as good as this one, I can’t
wait to see what he will direct next. Just a small fact, I actually screamed out in empathy in one scene involving fish hooks, even if it wasn’t a very graphical scene, and
I rarely do that in movies.
Full review: AnthroFred@Slasherpool

Obviously the film isn’t about gratification or variable levels of ecstasy, but a movie of prime force that wants to reconcile a past memoir with fortitude and devotion. If anyone looks at this film as being anything other than a clever post modern study of the dramatic decline of one family’s love then you’ve sadly misinterpreted the point. I will agree the film borderlines horror and the supernatural with the utmost precision. Kim Jee-Woon’s knowledge of movies is apparent enough through references of such western affairs as The Sixth Sense and The Others, even acknowledging the visual parallels of Ringu and Ju-on, but despite these similarities, a capitalization of past Asian horror films this is not. The story has a purpose meant to be openly interpreted and while the result may not appear to be as thought provoking or rewarding to some, it doesn’t treat the viewer like a dummy by claiming the first ninety minutes to be a complete waste of time. Instead we are given starting points where the fragments of confusion are connected through hidden memories over a period of time all destined to tie together the loose ends along the way.

A Tale Of Two Sisters keeps you guessing right up until the climax where even when it comes you find yourself in a situation unwelcoming it because of your fondness for the characters in the movie. When the ending was painstakingly slow to reveal I sat in amazement at just how much I missed with regards to hints uncovered in times of anguish. Moments that purposely averted my attention elsewhere when subtly straying towards the finale. The behavioral attitudes that changed and shifted various visions in certain directions. There’s a moment during the film when the viewer is placed in a predicament of excitement and fear. A dream sequence that’s so understated and so unique it could only be examined as genuinely frightening without revealing what takes place. The film works because it relies on the concentration of such specific and important elements to tell its story. It cultivates the context of horror while remaining reasonably conscious of the dramatic surroundings and happenings. The brilliant pacing moves like a romantic love ballad played across the black and white keys of a piano. Anxiously building to a point where all mechanisms intersect into one emotional composition.

Time applies itself to unravel the mystery and it sounds beautiful to the ears, but amazingly dreadful to partake upon. The story doesn’t sacrifice character development for lesser known principles, instead it eases itself under the viewers shoulder like a cushioned pillow before manipulating them into thinking it is okay to relax only to have your focus stripped of its assessments frame by frame. The story may appear repetitious and challenging to some, but its beauty lies in the reactions of the characters that make A Tale Of Two Sisters a surreal masterpiece in Korean cinema. Where disguises often insinuate feelings and words that hold meanings appear to be whispered. It’s that rare aspect of story telling that creates such compelling atmosphere and exceptional characters that have a tendency to influence repeated viewing pleasures.

The acting is undoubtedly exceptional. Not a single character goes underplayed here, because each piece of the puzzle depends on their believability. Geun-yeong Mun could have unquestionably carried the film on her young shoulders. Her portrayal of innocence, matched by an equally compatible posture, bleeds with purity. Her intimidation of the brilliantly quaint Jung-ah Yum is significant for the viewer to understand, so that the ending is easily acceptable and she does this almost effortlessly. I especially enjoyed the performance of Su-jeong Lim because of how she was able to command the character of Su-mi. She has a recognizable talent for acting that’s felt throughout the movie while we venture through her characters ups and downs. If credit is misplaced for one character it goes without saying Kap-su Kim who plays the father of Su-mi and Su-yeon has the pivotal part in Two Sisters.

His character is the one that supports the structure of the puzzle, watching it crumble and reassemble itself without any intention to intervene. Many will assume his role is like a moderator, but it’s much more than that. To be specific he plays a father at heart with a gentle compassion to understand what is happening, only he struggles to do it on his own. It’s this incorporation of sincerity that makes A Tale of Two Sisters shine. For those patient enough to endure the misplaced intricacies and conundrum, A Tale Of Two Sister will reward your curiosity by expanding upon your own analysis with a defining story of cunning wits and maturity.
Full review: SuperNova@HorrorTalk

What an amazing film! A complex, engrossing story full of well-developed, deeply layered characters, lovingly photographed with deep, rich colors. I understood the story (more or less), but the movie begs to be watched and analyzed multiple times, just like David Lynch’s best work. I find myself quite shaken by the experience (in a good way), and am sure I’ll be reflecting on it for weeks to come. No. I won’t try explaining the plot to you, but the film certainly gets a big recommendation from me.
Joe Barlow@CinemaSlave
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Language: Korean
Subtitles included: English

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