Film Reviews

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) – Blu-ray Review

Originally released in 2003, the South Korean psychological horror drama A Tale of Two Sisters is a film that quickly gained massive success. One of the highest grossing South Korean films of all time, and the first to be shown in America, it secured director Kim Jee-woon as an artist worth keeping an eye on.

The story follows Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), a teenage girl who begins the film in a psychiatric hospital following some unseen trauma. We then get to see Su-mi returning home to stay with her father, played by Kim Kap-soo, and her younger sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young). Also waiting for them at home is their new step-mother, Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah), a cold woman who instantly treats the two sisters with thinly veiled contempt.

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Over the course of the film we see the two sisters trying to settle back into their regular home routine, though it’s difficult thanks to their father being distant from them, and their step-mother becoming more and more cruel as the film goes on. To make matters even worse, Su-mi begins to hear strange things in the house, and even starts to see a ghostly figure. But that’s about that can be said about the plot, as this is very much one of those movies where the less you know about it the better. If anything, going in with no information at all is probably the best thing, so if you’ve never seen the film before and have picked up this new Blu-ray I’d recommend even avoiding the trailer before watching it.

This was the first time that I’d actually seen the movie, having never gotten around to it despite hearing great things about it for almost twenty years now. Luckily, I’d somehow missed spoilers as to what the film is about, and as such I was able to try and figure out the mystery and try to predict the ending (unsuccessfully I might add). After finishing my initial viewing I could see why this is a film that has received such a cult following, as it’s a layered and complex horror mystery that doesn’t treat its audience like children, actually testing your mind as it goes along. Perhaps most surprisingly, however, was that as soon as it was done I found myself wanting to watch it again, to see how the film plays out once I knew the ending.

Luckily, the new release is filled with excuses to go and watch it multiple times, as it not only includes a beautiful high definition presentation of the film, but also three separate commentary tracks. The three tracks all bring something very different to the mix, and are able to expand your knowledge and understanding of this important film in different ways.

There are two tracks that feature director Kim Jee-woon, one where he’s joined by the cinematographer Lee Mo-gee and lighting cameraman Oh Seung-chul to discuss the practical making of the film and how lighting and camera work were a large part of making it a success; the other sees him joined by Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young, the titular two sisters, and they discuss the acting side of the film and how they approached their scenes and what filming was like. The third commentary has Korean film historian Pierce Conran and critic James Marsh, who take a look at the film in a broader sense, how it impacted cinema as a whole, and how the film was received and went on to influence other works.

These three commentaries are fascinating and incredibly informative, and definitely changed the way I view the film. They give a lot of insight into the movie and they really help you to understand not just the work that went into it, but how important this film was. In addition to this, there are a number of video essays on the disc that explore the movie in different ways. There’s an essay by Pierce Conran that looks at the visual style of director Kim Jee-woon, and how this plays out across his entire body of work; ‘Spirits of the Peninsula’ by Shawn Morrisey looks at Korean folklore in cinema; and there’s a great essay by Kat Ellinger that looks at trauma and the Gothic styling of the movie.

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If all of these commentaries and essays weren’t enough, the new release also comes with some behind the scenes footage that was shot at the time of the film, as well as interviews, deleted scenes, outtakes, a director’s analysis, a look at how the iconic poster was made, and production designs for the sets.

Whether this is your first time watching this movie, or if you’ve been a fan of it for years, this is a hell of a set. Not only do you get the film in stunning high definition, but the masses of extras, commentaries, and essays makes it a set that you can spend hours upon hours in, watching and re-watching, learning more about one of the most important films in Korean Cinema. For that alone, this is a set that’s well worth getting.

A Tale of Two Sisters is out on Blu-ray on 16th August from Arrow Video.

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