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
Written byKim Jee-woon
Produced by
  • Oh Jeong-wan
  • Oh Ki-min
CinematographyLee Mo-gae
Edited byKo Im-pyo
Music byLee Byung-woo
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 the highest-grossing South Korean horror film and the first South Korean picture to be screened in American theatres.[5] An English-language 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), who constantly requires medication.

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 suspects Eun-joo being responsible. Su-mi confronts Eun-joo about the bruises but Eun-joo refuses to apologize for her actions. That night, their uncle and aunt arrive for dinner, and Eun-joo tells bizarre stories that bewilder them. The aunt suddenly suffers a violent seizure and suffocates. After recovering, she tells her husband that she saw the ghost of a dead girl beneath the kitchen sink during her seizure. Eun-joo tries to see what is beneath the sink, but the ghost girl violently grabs her arm.

Eun-joo's relationship with her stepdaughters sours after she finds her pet bird mutilated and killed and her personal photographs defaced. As punishment, she locks Su-yeon in the closet. Su-mi releases her and tells her father about the abuse. Her father begs her to stop acting out and informs her that Su-yeon is dead. Su-mi refuses to believe it as she sees her sister sobbing uncontrollably.

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

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" personality, Su-mi tries to sleep with her father as his "wife" and pretends to abuse Su-yeon by injuring herself and putting a porcelain doll in a sack and whipping it. It's also revealed that Su-mi was the one responsible for killing the pet bird.

The father and the real Eun-joo, a somewhat different woman from the imaginary version, send Su-mi back to the mental institution. Eun-joo tries to reconcile with Su-mi, promising to visit her as often as she can, but Su-mi rebuffs her. That night, Eun-joo hears footsteps in Su-yeon's old bedroom, revealing that the ghosts actually existed. Su-yeon's real ghost crawls out of the closet and kills Eun-joo. Meanwhile, Su-mi smiles, appearing to have finally found peace.

Flashbacks reveal the day that led Su-mi to be institutionalized. Whilst her terminally ill mother was still alive, her father engaged in an adulterous affair with Eun-joo, whilst she was still an in-home nurse. This upsets the sisters and drives their mother to hang herself in the closet of Su-yeon's bedroom. Su-yeon attempts to revive her but the closet collapses on top of her, slowly crushing her to death. Eun-joo walks in and considers saving Su-yeon, but she 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 fates.


  • 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[6] 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 the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theaters upon release.[5] With a limited American release starting 3 December 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."[7] Meanwhile, Metacritic scored the film 65 out of 100, meaning "generally favorable reviews" from 19 critics.[8]

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."[9]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2003 Sitges Film Festival[10]

  • 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 28 June, 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.[citation needed]

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. ^ Elley, Derek (3 July 2003). "A Tale of Two Sisters". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  7. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  8. ^ "A Tale of Two Sisters Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  9. ^ Thomas, Keven (17 December 2004). "A stylish and creepy Korean 'Tale'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
  10. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0365376/awards

External links[edit]