Thursday, August 03, 2006


This month's overlooked DVD is A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. It's a superb mind-bending movie from the South Korean director who made this year's stand-out gangster movie, A BITTERSWEET LIFE. In fairness, it's by far not a hidden jem in South East Asia - indeed in South Korea it's one of the highest grossing movies of all time. But it got a super-limited release in the UK and deserves a lot more recognition. So here goes....

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is more of a psychological thriller than a typical horror movie, although it does contain flashes of gore and some truly frightening material. The movie is based on a truly Grimm fairy tale about two young sisters who go to live with their father and wicked stepmother in the countryside. Director Kim Jee-Woon knows how to scare an audience. He starts off with a scene is a sterile white room - perhaps an asylum. A girl is brought in. We cannot see her face and she will not respond to the doctor's questions or the photograph of a seemingly happy family. We then cut to the events of the story. The opening half hour has a slow, worryingly calm tone. The family move to the kind of claustrophic, colour-saturated countryside that evokes those menacing forests of Litte Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. But then little cracks start to appear. One sister starts acting up with the stepmother. There are arguments followed by a macabre dinner party. The father withdraws into himself and the colour-coding becomes even more heightened. The strange occurences come thick and fast now. What really happened to the girls' mother? How wicked is the stepmother? Why are there sounds coming from beneath the floorboards and the kitchen sink?

The first time I watched this movie at the cinema I had really no clue what was going on and when I got some inkling near the end it was a complete mind-explosion. I had to go back and watch it again. It's that kind of movie. I've since watched it a couple more times and always pick up more about the story but also appreciate more the detailed and deliberate use of colour, props and editing. Upon reflection this movie reminds me of a complex elegant puzzle that gives great intellectual satisfaction once you've worked it out but also pleases aesthetically. Not to mention the blood-curdling horror!

So, as far as I am concerned, this is the best horror flick I've seen since THE SHINING - but then I really go for the psychological stuff. It's beautifully put together, satisfies on many levels and never gets old.

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS was released in South Korea in 2003 and in the US and UK in 2004. It is now available on DVD including a deluxe two disc set that features extensive interviews with cast and director and full audio commentaries. Apparently there is going to be a Hollywood remake released in 2008, but as the South Korean has vowed to avoid it like the plague I suggest you do likewise!

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