A Tale of Two Sisters

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A Tale of Two Sisters
A Tale of Two Sisters film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Revised RomanizationJanghwa, Hongryeon
McCune–ReischauerChanghwa, Hongnyŏn
Directed byKim Jee-woon
Produced by
  • Oh Jeong-wan
  • Oh Ki-min
Written byKim Jee-woon
Music byLee Byung-woo
CinematographyLee Mo-gae
Edited byKo Im-pyo
B.O.M. Film Productions Co.
Distributed by
  • Cineclick Asia
  • Big Blue Film
Release date
  • 13 June 2003 (2003-06-13)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountrySouth Korea
Budget$3.7 million[2]
Box office$1 million[3]

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean장화, 홍련; RRJanghwa, Hongryeon; lit. "Rose Flower, Red Lotus") is a 2003 South Korean psychological horror drama film written and directed by Kim Jee-woon. The film is inspired by a Joseon Dynasty era folktale entitled Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, which has been adapted to film several times. The plot focuses on a recently released patient from a mental institution who returns home with her sister, only to face disturbing events between her stepmother and the ghosts haunting their house - all of which are connected to a dark past in the family's history.

The film opened to very positive reviews from critics and won Best Picture at the 2004 Fantasporto Film Festival.[4] It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres.[5] An American remake titled The Uninvited was released in 2009 to mixed reviews.


A teenage girl, Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), is being treated for shock and psychosis in a mental institution. She is released and returns home to her family's secluded estate in the countryside with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and younger sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), whom she is protective over. The sisters have a cold reunion with their stepmother, Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah).

Su-mi has a nightmare of her late mother's ghost. The next day, she finds family photos which reveal that Eun-joo was formerly an in-home nurse for her then-terminally ill mother. She discovers bruises on her sister's arms and angrily confronts Eun-joo about the abuse. That night, their uncle and his wife arrive for dinner and Eun-joo tells bizarre stories that bewilder them. The uncle's wife suffers a violent seizure and tells her husband that she saw the ghost of a young girl beneath the kitchen sink. When Eun-joo is in the kitchen alone, a ghost girl is seen watching her in the background.

After finding her pet bird dead and seeing defaced photos of herself, Eun-joo locks Su-yeon in the closet. Su-mi releases her hysterical sister and is confronted by their father, who begs her to stop acting out. She retorts that he is blind to Eun-joo's abuse against Su-yeon. Her father tells her that Su-yeon is dead but Su-mi refuses to believe it.

The next morning, Eun-joo drags a bloodied sack through the house, whipping it. Su-mi believes that Su-yeon is inside the sack and she and Eun-joo and Su-mi get into a violent physical altercation. Su-mi's father arrives to find an injured Su-mi unconscious.

It is ultimately revealed that Su-mi and her father were alone in the house the entire time. Su-yeon and Eun-joo were merely hallucinatory manifestations of Su-mi's dissociative identity disorder. Throughout the film, Su-mi simultaneously switched personalities, acting as herself and Eun-joo. She hallucinated Su-yeon as a result of not being able to accept her death. In her "Eun-joo" mode, Su-mi imagined scenarios where she impersonates Eun-joo "abusing Su-yeon" but in reality injures herself to act out these situations. The bloodied sack simply contains a porcelain doll.

The father and the real Eun-joo, a much different woman from the imaginary version, send Su-mi back to the mental institution. That night, Eun-joo hears footsteps in Su-yeon's old bedroom. Simultaneously, Su-mi hears a mysterious whistling and recognizes it as Su-yeon - this contrasts her delusion of Su-yeon, who was unable to whistle, thereby confirming that the one who whistled is the real ghost of Su-yeon. Su-yeon's real ghost crawls out of the closet and kills Eun-joo, finally getting her revenge. Su-mi smiles, appearing to have finally found peace.

Flashbacks reveal the day that led Su-mi to be institutionalized. Her father and Eun-joo, who was still the nurse of their mother at the time, arrive home, announcing their engagement. This upsets the sisters and Su-yeon discovers that their mother hanged herself in Su-yeon's closet, depressed by the news. She attempts to revive her mother, causing the closet to collapse on top of her and slowly crush her to death. Eun-joo walks in and is about to save Su-yeon but encounters Su-mi, who engages in a heated confrontation with her. Angry at Su-mi's insults, Eun-joo decides to leave Su-yeon to die and tells Su-mi that she'll "regret this moment." Su-mi leaves the house, unaware of both her sister and her mother's conditions.


  • 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 (though the names still hold the meaning, 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 the role because she thought the script was too scary. Her next film was an unrelated horror film, The Uninvited.


Director Kim Jee-woon.

Box office[edit]

It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres.[5] With a limited American release starting December 3, 2004, it grossed $72,541.[3]

Critical response[edit]

A Tale of Two Sisters garnered very positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 85% based on 60 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "Restrained but disturbing, A Tale of Two Sisters is a creepily effective, if at times confusing, horror movie."[6] Meanwhile, Metacritic scored the film 65 out of 100, meaning "generally favorable reviews" from 19 critics.[7]

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."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2003 Sitges Film Festival[9]

  • Nomination - Best Film

2003 Screamfest Horror Film Festival

2003 Busan 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

2004 Grand Bell Awards

  • Nomination - Best Actress - Yum Jung-ah
  • Nomination - Best New Actress - Im Soo-jung
  • Nomination - Best Cinematography - Lee Mo-gae
  • Nomination - Best Art Direction - Cho Geun-hyun
  • Nomination - Best Lighting - Oh Seung-chul
  • Nomination - Best Costume Design - Ok Su-gyeong
  • Nomination - Best Music - Lee Byung-woo
  • Nomination - Best Sound - Kim Kyung-taek, Choi Tae-young


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 June 2004. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  2. ^ [1] Hancinema. Retrieved 2012-06-04
  3. ^ a b "A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  4. ^ "Fantas Through Awards". Fantasporto. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  5. ^ 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[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  7. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  8. ^ Thomas, Keven (17 December 2004). "A stylish and creepy Korean 'Tale'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
  9. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365376/awards

External links[edit]