A Tale of Two Sisters

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For the 1989 American film, see Tale of Two Sisters. For the Once Upon a Time episode, see A Tale of Two Sisters (Once Upon a Time).
A Tale of Two Sisters
A Tale of Two Sisters film.jpg
Poster for A Tale of Two Sisters
Hangul ,
Hanja ,
Revised Romanization Janghwa, Hongryeon
McCune–Reischauer Changhwa, Hongnyŏn
Directed by Kim Jee-woon
Produced by Oh Jeong-wan
Oh Ki-min
Written by Kim Jee-woon
Starring Im Soo-jung
Moon Geun-young
Yum Jung-ah
Kim Kap-soo
Music by Lee Byung-woo
Cinematography Lee Mo-gae
Edited by Go Im-pyo
B.O.M. Film Productions Co.
Distributed by Cineclick Asia
Big Blue Film
Release dates
  • June 13, 2003 (2003-06-13)
Running time 115 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean
Budget $3,700,000[1]
Box office $72,541 (US only)[2]

A Tale of Two Sisters (Hangul: 장화, 홍련; RR: Janghwa, Hongryeon; lit. "Rose Flower, Red Lotus") is a 2003 South Korean psychological horror film written and directed by Kim Jee-woon. The film is inspired by a Joseon Dynasty folktale entitled "Janghwa Hongryeon jeon", which has been adapted to film several times. The plot focuses on two sisters who, after returning home from a psychiatric hospital, experience increasingly disturbing events involving both them and their stepmother.

A Tale of Two Sisters opened to very positive critical review and won Best Picture at the 2004 Fantasporto Film Festival.[3] It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres.[4] An American remake titled The Uninvited was released in 2009.


The movie opens in a mental hospital where a teenage girl named Su-mi is being treated for shock and psychosis. She is being questioned by a doctor who shows her pictures of her family and asks if she can speak about the day that led her to being admitted to the hospital. She slowly raises her head and looks away to the side into the distance.

The next scene shows her returning with her father and younger sister, Su-yeon, to the family's secluded estate near a lake. Upon arriving, the sisters are met with a forced welcome by their overbearing stepmother.

At a tense family dinner, the stepmother announces she has invited the sister's uncle and his wife to dinner the next day. Su-mi tells her stepmother she will not eat with them and the two sisters leave the table. That night as Su-yeon goes to sleep, she experiences frightening visions and runs out of her room to Su-mi. When Su-mi goes to investigate, she only finds her father sleeping, but her stepmother catches her and tells her not to wake him. She rejoins Su-yeon and comforts her.

Later, Su-mi has a disturbing dream of a black haired ghost crawling along the floor of her room. When she awakens, she discovers that her sister has had her period. When attempting to sneak sanitary napkins out of her parents bathroom, her stepmother catches her, and laughingly remarks that she has also gotten her period.

Su-mi finds several family photos which reveal that their stepmother was once a nurse her father worked with and apparently was also a live-in nurse for the girls' mother. Su-yeon enters the room and Su-mi discovers bruises on her arm. She angrily asks her if their stepmother was the cause. Su-yeon refuses to answer and runs out of the room. Su-mi confronts her stepmother about Su-yeon's injuries. The stepmother becomes angry. She yells at Su-mi, telling her that punishment is sometimes needed and that she is now her only mother, something she must accept. She also tells her that life is not always sweet and that she must bear the worst that life has to offer. She also asks Su-mi if she is feeling well.

That night, the sister's uncle and his wife arrive for a visit. They dine with the father and stepmother, whose behavior is extremely inappropriate. Suddenly, the uncle's wife has a violent attack and falls onto the floor. When she recovers, the uncle drives her home. During the drive, she tells him that during her attack she saw a girl under the kitchen sink. The stepmother also sees the girl and tells the sister's father that ever since Su-mi and Su-yeon returned home bizarre things have been happening inside the house. Later the stepmother sees the father find one of her beloved birds bloodied and dead in its cage.

The stepmother is infuriated and goes into Su-yeon's room where she discovers that photos of her have been mutilated and her face has been scratched out. She demands that Su-yeon get off the bed and then notices something under the covers. She finds her other bird bloodied with a broken neck. Su-yeon reacts with shock. She attacks Su-yeon, throws her into the wardrobe closet, and refuses to let her out until she apologizes. When the stepmother leaves the room, Su-mi suspects something is wrong. She enters the bedroom and releases her sister from the closet. Overcome with emotion and guilt, she comforts Su-yeon and tells her that she is sorry, and that such an incident will never happen again.

The father confronts Su-mi and blames her for the trauma the family has been going through since she returned. He begs her to tell him what is wrong. Su-mi retorts that her stepmother is to blame because she has been attacking Su-yeon. Su-mi implores her sister to tell her father the truth, but she refuses. The father looks sadly, but sternly at Su-mi and tells her twice that Su-yeon is dead. Su-mi begins to cry and refuses to believe him. She looks at Su-yeon helplessly. Su-yeon cowers in a corner and shrieks several times.

The father makes a phone call and informs the other party that they must come to the house as soon as possible. The next morning, the stepmother is shown dragging a large, bloodied sack through the house that leaves a trail of blood. She starts beating it with a stick, and noise awakens Su-mi. When she gets up she finds a note from her father saying he will return to the house that afternoon.

Su-mi runs to find Su-yeon, but sees a trail of blood on the floor. She follows it and finds the sack the stepmother dragged in earlier. Su-mi believes that Su-yeon is inside, but she cannot open the bag. She goes to the kitchen to retrieve a knife. When she returns, she finds that the sack has been moved to the wardrobe closet. Her stepmother ambushes her and a violent fight ensues. Su-mi stabs her stepmother in the hand with a pair of scissors. She hits Su-mi who falls to the floor unconscious. Her stepmother drags her to another part of the house.

As Su-mi awakens, she is laying on the floor. Her stepmother stands in front of her. She taunts Su-mi, reminding her that one cannot forget past actions. Su-mi quietly asks her stepmother to help her. She says she will, of course, and that she will end it. She then drags a large, heavy garden statue towards Su-mi. She raises it over her head to kill Su-mi, who looks at peace and makes no attempt to move. The stepmother is interrupted by the sound of the father returning home. There is a loud crash. The father enters the home and discovers Su-mi unconscious on the floor with pieces of the broken statue around her. He carries her to the sofa and notices a bloody wound on her hand. He then finds the stepmother in another room. The stepmother appears confused and asks him about Su-mi, wanting to know where she is. He leaves the room. When the door opens again, the stepmother enters, dressed in a business suit. The stepmother in the room reacts with shock and as the camera turns, Su-mi is seated in the room in place of the stepmother. It is revealed that Su-mi has in fact been alone in the house with her father, and that the events that had transpired between Su-yeon and the stepmother were merely manifestations of her multiple personalities.

The father and real stepmother take Su-mi back to the hospital and the stepmother returns to the house alone that evening. She hears the sound of someone running upstairs in what was once Su-yeon's bedroom. She enters the room, and it is extremely cold. She notices something thin and silver that rapidly appears from the wardrobe and then disappears back inside of it. She shivers and her breath appears as she breathes. One door of the wardrobe opens. She goes to investigate and sees a silk, flat piece of cloth between pillows and comforters. As she pulls it out, the shape of a figure forms and a long haired ghost appears with her head down. The stepmother backs away in horror. A thick, clear fluid seeps from the wardrobe. The stepmother looks terrified as something is approaching her. The exterior of the house is shown and her scream is heard outside.

Flashback scenes reveal that the father had previously visited the house with the stepmother after what was an apparent marriage, or engagement, to his mistress. His ex-wife, the uncle and the uncle's wife are also there. Tensions at the dining room table cause Su-mi and Su-yeon to leave the room. The sisters's real mother goes into Su-yeon's room and comforts her. When her daughter goes to sleep, the mother hangs herself in Su-yeon's wardrobe closet. Su-yeon awakens and the door to her closet opens. When she looks inside, she finds her mother's body. She shakes the lifeless body in an attempt to revive it, and pulls the wardrobe closet down on top of her. Everyone hears the noise, including the father and uncle who are outside. Su-yeon desperately scratches at the floor with her hand and weakly calls for help.

The stepmother is the only one investigates the source of the loud sound. She enters Su-yeon's room where she discovers the turned over wardrobe. She is startled when she sees Su-yeon's hand appear from underneath, scratching against the floor. She does nothing to help her and quickly leaves the room. She changes her mind and attempts to go back, but she encounters Su-mi. The stepmother asks Su-mi if she heard a strange noise. Su-mi is furious because the stepmother is upstairs and her father is not in the house. The two have a heated confrontation. As Su-mi tries to walk away, the stepmother grabs her arm and tells her that she will one day regret her actions and not be able to take it back. Su-mi asks her what could be worse than being anywhere near her. Su-yeon is slowly crushed to death by the weight of the wardrobe and whispers for Su-mi to help her as she dies. Su-mi brushes past the stepmother and leaves the house. She walks past her father and uncle, through the gate and heads up a path. For a brief moment she pauses and looks back towards the house as though sensing something is wrong. She sees her stepmother in the upstairs balcony looking at her. She slams the shutters together. Su-mi continues her walk, unaware of what has happened.


  • Im Soo-jung as Bae Su-mi
  • Moon Geun-young as Bae Su-yeon
  • Yum Jung-ah as Heo Eun-joo
  • Kim Kap-soo as Bae Moo-hyeon
  • Lee Seung-bi as Mi-hee (Eun-joo's sister in law)
  • Lee Dae-yeon as Su-mi's doctor
  • Park Mi-hyun as Mrs Bae (Moo-hyeon's first wife and Su-mi's and Su-yeon's mother)
  • Woo Ki-hong as Sun-kyu (Eun-joo's brother)


The film is loosely based on a popular Korean fairy tale "Janghwa Hongryeon jeon" which has been adapted into film versions in 1924, 1936, 1956, 1962, 1972, and 2009.

In the original Korean Folktale the sisters' names are Janghwa and Hongryeon (Rose Flower and Red Lotus). In the film, they are Su-mi and Su-yeon (still mean Rose and Lotus).

Im Soo-jung (Su-mi) originally auditioned for the role of Su-yeon (played by Moon Geun-young).

Kim Jee-woon originally wanted Jun Ji-hyun to play Su-mi, but she refused it because she thought the script was too scary. Ironically, her next film was an unrelated horror film, The Uninvited.


Director Kim Jee-woon.

It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres.[4] With a limited American release starting December 3, 2004, it grossed $72,541.[2] A Tale of Two Sisters garnered very positive reviews, with an 87% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[5] Meanwhile, Metacritic scored the film 65 out of 100, meaning "generally favorable reviews" from 19 critics.[6]

Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times described A Tale of Two Sisters as "a triumph of stylish, darkly absurdist horror that even manages to strike a chord of Shakespearean tragedy – and evokes a sense of wonder anew at all the terrible things people do to themselves and each other."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2003 Sitges Film Festival[8]
  • Nomination - Best Film
2003 Screamfest Horror Film Festival
  • Best Picture
2003 Pusan Film Critics Awards
2003 Blue Dragon Film Awards
2003 Korean Film Awards
  • Best New Actress - Im Soo-jung
  • Best Art Direction - Park Hee-jeong
  • Best Sound - Choi Tae-young
2003 Director's Cut Awards
2004 Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival
2004 Fantasia Festival
  • Most Popular Film
2004 Fantasporto Film Festival
  • International Fantasy Film Best Actress - Im Soo-jung
  • International Fantasy Film Best Director - Kim Jee-woon
  • International Fantasy Film Best Film
  • Orient Express Section Special Jury Award
2004 Gérardmer Film Festival
  • Grand Prize
  • Prix 13ème Rue
  • Youth Jury Grand Prize


DreamWorks announced the two lead actresses on June 28, with Emily Browning as Anna Ivers (Su-mi), and Arielle Kebbel as Alex Ivers (Su-yeong). Although originally titled A Tale of Two Sisters like the original film, it was later renamed as The Uninvited.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Hancinema. Retrieved 2012-06-04
  2. ^ a b "A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Fantas Through Awards". Fantasporto. Archived from the original on August 27, 2009. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b http://media.www.kentnewsnet.com/media/storage/paper867/news/2009/02/03/News/the-Uninvited.Stays.True.To.Typical.Korean.Horror.Films-3610298.shtml
  5. ^ "A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  6. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  7. ^ Thomas, Keven (December 17, 2004). "A stylish and creepy Korean 'Tale'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 27, 2009. Retrieved August 27, 2009. 
  8. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365376/awards

External links[edit]