Film Review … A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters
2003
Korea

CHARACTERS

Su-mi = The Older Sister
Su-yeon = The Younger Sister
Moo-hyeon = The Father
Eun-joo = The Stepmother

This superb film is one that will, I would suspect,
hardly be popular with modern audiences.

To see it touted as a “horror” film, for me,
merely reflects upon the superficial mentality
of the 21st century.

To see it regarded as ‘ slow’ or ‘incomprehensible’
comes as no surprise at all:

if a film does not portray frenetic,
cartoon-style violence and vacuity,
it is (invariably) deemed to be … “boring”.

To any viewer with a mature mindset,
and an attention span longer than that of a child,
this is a film that is thought-provoking
and obliges one to sit still after its ending
to ponder what has just been seen.

To those whose minds rest at the cartoon level
of 21st century existence,
this film will almost certainly be ‘long’, ‘drawn-out’,
and “boring”.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a gripping morality play
about … Conscience.

The “twist” in the tale is NOT the point
for the simple matter that the ‘twist’ is revealed
half-way through the film.

For anyone who would like to see a film that requires
the viewer to deduce what truly is happening
– as opposed to what appears to be happening –

( in other words, where the viewer is ‘pulled’
into the events of the story … Along With …
the characters on the screen )

then A Tale of Two Sisters is a film that is definitely
not merely seen, but experienced.

It is so far above any of the mental and moral sewage
that has been disgorged from America, via Hollywood,
that it should be considered as having no similarity
with the profanity-spewing, vulgar buffoonery
offered over the last thirty years,

This film has Nothing Whatsoever
to do with “ghosts” –
and everything to do with A Guilty Conscience.

If you enjoy solving a mystery as though right there
with the characters, then A Tale of Two Sisters
is a workout session of mental exercise
that I highly recommend.

It cannot be stated enough, however, that
this film requires a mind to think,
and an attention span to observe.

Note:

For those who would like to see this film,
PLEASE … Do Not … proceed
any further in this review.

Stop Here.

If you would like to see the film –

STOP.

Here.

The (Real) Tale of Two Sisters

Those who find the film “unfathomable” or
“incoherent” or “arbitrary”
are those who have not the patience
to sit and ponder what they have seen.

A comic book mentality will never understand
the depths of this film, seeing only the surface elements
of a convoluted “ghost story”
and missing completely
the far deeper meaning of the film.

A second, third, and fourth viewing
– for those who can recognise
that ‘something deeper’ is going on –
would clear up a great many “difficulties”.

This film REQUIRES mental effort.

Those who will not strive
will gain nothing from the film,
and will invariably disgorge ignorance and discontent
– blaming the film, or the director,
for what their minds cannot understand.

The THEME of this film
is found in the very opening scene
where a pair of hands are being washed in a basin.

The clear reference must surely be to the biblical account
of Pilate “washing his hands of the whole thing”
from guilt over his execution order for Christ.

The “twist” to the tale
is to be found in the fact that

there are only

TWO

people in the house:

Su-Mi and her father.

No one else is in the house.

 

The DELUSION …

The REALITY …

Su-mi’s sister is dead.
Su-mi’s step-mother does not appear
until much later in the film ( the father is
clearly heard saying on the telephone that
it is ‘still too early’ ).

The Step-mother and the Sister
are figments of Su-mi’s troubled mind.

There is an appearance of Su-mi’s mother, at one point,
standing over her on the bed;
and an appearance of Su-mi’s sister,
in the guilt-ridden mind of a visitor to the house.

The entire film pulls the viewer inside
the tormented, guilt-ridden mind of Su-mi.
The viewer sees what Su-mi’s mind ‘sees’.

The EVENTS Preceding the Film

Su-mi’s mother required the presence
of a nurse in the house.
The nurse was Eun-joo, who would, after the mother’s death,
become the girls’ step-mother.

The girls’ mother was therefore, in some way,
Ill enough to require a nurse.

I believe that we may safely assume that
a romantic relationship developed
between the father and the nurse,
while the mother was under the nurse’s care.

( Did the mother realise that her husband and the nurse
were romantically involved, and so, kill herself … ? )

The WARDROBE

Su-mi’s little sister, Su-yeon,
had entered the bedroom in search of her mother.
Seeing the door of the wardrobe ajar,
she opened it…

… to find her mother’s body hanging from the railing.

( Why the mother committed suicide is not addressed;
and does not matter.
It is irrelevant to the thematic element
of A Guilty Conscience in those people who Did Nothing …
when they should have had the moral integrity
to Do Something. )

Reaching up to pull at her mother’s body,
Su-yeon pulled the wardrobe on top of herself,
and lay dying from the weight resting upon her.

The wardrobe made a tremendous crash,
was heard by all who were in the house,
but none of them went to rescue the little girl.

The step-mother, hearing the noise,
was the ONLY one of the people in the house
to rush upstairs to investigate.

As she reached the top of the stairs however,
Su-mi appeared from her bedroom and started
belligerently tormented the woman:

“Stay out of our lives”
the impudent teen tells her stepmother
who, fed up with the constant impertinence of the teen,

does exactly as the girl demands.

“You will regret this moment later”
the step-mother tells Su-mi.

Which is precisely the point of the entire film.

WASHING the HANDS

The opening scene sets the theme of the entire film:
washing the hands has direct reference to Pilate’s
“washing his hands of guilt” or “the blood”
of Christ’s execution order.

This ‘blood on the hands allusion is again later
indicated by Su-mi’s reaching into the refrigerator
and withdrawing her hands with blood on them.

PERSONAL ITEMS

The diary, the dresses … The puzzled look from Su-mi
at the personal items she is about to place in her room,
are already present …

this is the first clue that were are here
experiencing Repetition

Su-Mi is released from a psychiatric hospital
and placed in the custody of her father.

What is readily evident upon her return to the house
is that she is repeating events

she has come back to the house before.
and is merely repeating another return to the house
with her father.

The DINNER Guests

With regard to the scene in the dining table,
it is important to recall that seated at the table are
The Father, Su-mi …
The Brother (of Eun-joo) and his Wife.

Since the Step-mother is a figment of Su-mi’s imagination,
it is Su-mi who is relating tales of ‘growing up’
to the brother … who must be insulted by her belligerence
at so boldly pretending to be part of his family.

This bizarre performance
is having an effect upon the brother’s wife,
who does not want to be there in the first place:
it all becomes clearly ‘too much’
as she remembers the night that the little girl died,
and none of those present did anything to save her.

The FIGURE Under the Sink.

The figure under the sink
was definitely seen by the brother’s wife.

It would seem in keeping with the theme of the film (guilt)
to understand that the woman’s conscience was plaguing her,
and – this being the next time she was in the house
after the tragedy,
her conscience would not let her rest …

… She like everyone else, after all,
heard the noise …

… yet did nothing.

And as they sat in the car before the visit,
the wife made it clear to her husband
that she did not want to return to that house.

She went very reluctantly, and only
at her husband’s gentle insistence.

It was during the visit that the suffocating attack set in,
and the wife saw the vision under the sink …

… a figure which was wearing a green dress –
which is the connection to the figure and the event:
the same green dress was hanging in the wardrobe
when Soo-yeon found her mother’s body.

Clearly, the figure is the little girl
who – despite the noise of the falling wardrobe –
had been lying dying while no one cared enough
to come to her rescue.

There is a line from Su-mi later in the film in which
she says words to the effect that
“there are some things that you wish to forget,
but they follow you around LIKE a GHOST.”

The ghosts, I believe, are in the minds of the two women
who ‘see’ them.

FOOTSTEPS

The running footsteps that Soo-mi keeps hearing
are the imaginary footsteps that WOULD HAVE been heard
had Su-mi responded to The Noise that day,
and arrived in the bedroom to save her little sister
who was being crushed beneath the heavy wardrobe.

The “sounds” are her own conscience.

The Bloody BAG

Upon realising that she has been
imagining the events depicted thus far,
Su-mi is now obliged to realise that her little sister is,
in reality, dead.

What she does though, is to digress
into another world of fantasy
where she imagines herself still able
to save her sister.

A final burst of reality, however,
makes her lie still
gladly accepting the death blow that she imagines
the step-mother is about to inflict upon her.

The ENDING

The film ends with Su-mi back in the psychiatric ward
existing in a world of delusion where she imagines
the death of her step-mother and protecting her sister;
destined, it would seem

( from the repetition of the opening scenes: her diary;
several identical dresses hanging in her room )

to repeat the same scenarios over and over again.

Recall the flashback sequence where Su-mi
walks away from the house
with the Step-mother looking at her –
this was the time when Soo-mi had a premonition
that she should not be walking away.

This is the moment she regrets; the moment
when she was not there whenever her sister
needed her most.

Su-mi is captive of a guilty conscience
that will plague her for the rest of her life.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

This film is a superb production
for those who want to be drawn in as participants
in a story.

It requires attention to detail
and the ability to Observe – to look for clues
when something “does not seem right”.

If this describes you as a viewer,
then I highly recommend this Korean film –

A Tale of Two Sisters.

P Livingstone