A Tale of Two Sisters
|A Tale of Two Sisters|
Theatrical release poster
|Revised Romanization||Janghwa, Hongryeon|
|Directed by||Kim Jee-woon|
|Written by||Kim Jee-woon|
|Music by||Lee Byung-woo|
|Edited by||Ko Im-pyo|
B.O.M. Film Productions Co.
|Box office||$1 million|
A Tale of Two Sisters (Hangul: 장화, 홍련; RR: Janghwa, 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. It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres. An American remake titled The Uninvited was released in 2009 to largely negative reviews.
A teenage girl, Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), is being treated for shock and psychosis in a mental institution. The doctor (Lee Dae-yeon) questions her about the day that led her to be institutionalised but she refuses to answer. In a later scene, Su-mi returns home to her family's secluded estate in the countryside with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and her younger sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young). At a family dinner, their cold and distant stepmother, Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah), who constantly requires medication after every meal, announces that their uncle (Woo Ki-hong) and his wife (Lee Seung-bi) will arrive tomorrow night for a dinner party. The sisters are disappointed with the announcement and leave the dinner table.
Later in the night, Eun-joo sleeps with the father but he becomes uncomfortable and sleeps in the living room downstairs. Su-yeon hears strange noises in her bedroom and goes to Su-mi for protection. However, Su-mi experiences a terrifying nightmare where the ghost of her biological mother (Park Mi-hyun) climbs on top of her bed with a clearly broken neck and blood pouring down her legs. Afterwards, all of the women in the family discover that their periods have occurred at the same time.
The next day, Su-mi finds several family photos, which reveal that her father and Eun-joo once worked together and that her stepmother was formerly an in-home nurse for her late terminally ill biological mother. Su-mi discovers bruises on her sister's arms and angrily confronts Eun-joo about it. At night, their uncle and his wife attend the dinner party and Eun-joo tells bizarre stories, much to the bewilderment of the other guests. Suddenly, the uncle's wife suffers a violent seizure and upon recovering, she tells her husband that she witnessed a ghost of a young girl lying beneath the kitchen sink. Eun-joo attempts to search for the ghost and under the sink, finds a hair clip. In the background, a young girl with a green dress with blue ribbons is watching her, as a suspicious Eun-joo turns around, a disfigured hand suddenly reaches out from below the sink and latches onto her arm. Shocked, Eun-joo stumbles backwards and comes face to face with the same ghost of the young girl for a brief moment.
After finding out that her pet bird has been killed, Eun-joo enters Su-yeon's room and discovers another dead bird, along with defaced family photos of herself. She cruelly locks Su-yeon in the closet and refuses to free her until she apologises. Su-mi eventually releases her sister and she tearfully apologises that she didn't hear her pleas in time. Su-mi's father blames her for the family's recent trauma, but she retorts that Eun-joo is to blame for abusing Su-yeon. The father tells her that Su-yeon is dead, bewildering the distressed Su-mi.
The next morning, after the father leaves the house to arrange Su-mi's readmission to the mental institution, Eun-joo is seen dragging a bloodied sack throughout the hallways of the house and whips it. After discovering the trail of blood, Su-mi believes that Su-yeon is inside the sack and attempts to open it with a pair of scissors. Eun-joo catches her and attempts to scald her with boiling water but Su-mi stabs her in the hand with scissors. Su-mi's head is later forcibly smashed onto a nearby medicine cabinet by Eun-joo, who later knocks her down unconscious. Upon recovering, Eun-joo gravely reminds her that she won't be able to forget her recent trauma as she tries to finish her off with a garden statue. The father arrives home and takes the injured Su-mi to a different room as he provides the seemingly remorseful Eun-joo with medication.
It is ultimately revealed that Su-mi and her father were alone in the house the entire time and the characters of Su-yeon and Eun-joo were manifestations of her dissociative identity disorder. Su-mi has simultaneously switched character "modes" between herself and Eun-joo and she also hallucinates Su-yeon being there as a result of not being able to accept her death a long time ago. In her "Eun-joo mode", Su-mi imagines scenarios where she impersonates Eun-joo "abusing Su-yeon" but in reality injures herself to "act" out these scenarios. The bloodied sack is revealed to not be bloody at all and instead contains a porcelain doll, which Su-mi whips in her "Eun-joo" mode.
The father and the real Eun-joo, a much different character from the imaginary version (and someone who is clearly guilt-ridden), arrive and send Su-mi back to the mental institution. Eun-joo attempts to reconcile her relationship with Su-mi, which was implied to have been dysfunctional in the past, by promising to visit her as often as possible but Su-mi rejects her advances. Eun-joo and the father return home and whilst being in the kitchen alone at night, she hears strange footsteps entering Su-yeon's former bedroom. Simultaneously, Su-mi, alone in her room, hears a mysterious whistling sound and immediately recognizes it as Su-yeon, which is in stark contrast to an earlier scene where her delusion of Su-yeon is unable to whistle. Eun-joo enters the room to investigate the source of the footsteps but the lights suddenly black out and the door is closed shut by an unseen force. The closet in the room suddenly opens by itself, and a blue ribbon snakes up into the wardrobe. Eun-joo accidentally disturbs what is finally revealed to be the ghost of Su-yeon, who is seen wearing a green dress with blue ribbons. The ghost proceeds to crawl out of the closet and towards Eun-joo and her screams could be heard outside the house, indicating that she has been killed by Su-yeon, who finally got her revenge. Su-mi then lies back in her bed with a small smile on her face, appearing to having finally found some peace in her life.
Flashbacks eventually reveal the day that led Su-mi to be institutionalised. The father and Eun-joo, who was still the in-home of Su-mi and Su-yeon's terminally ill biological mother, arrive home after an apparent engagement. This causes both sisters to storm off to their bedrooms with disappointment. Su-yeon, seen in the flashback wearing the green dress with blue ribbons and a hair clip, discovers her biological mother in her room, who appears to be depressed by the recent engagement. She later discovers that her biological mother had hung herself in the closet (which explains why her ghost has a broken neck) and attempts to revive her lifeless body, causing the closet to collapse on top of her and slowly crush her to death. Eun-joo goes upstairs and decides to help the dying Su-yeon at the last minute but encounters Su-mi, who engages in a heated confrontation with her. Eun-joo ultimately decides to leave Su-yeon for dead and gravely reminds Su-mi that she'll "later regret this moment" as Su-mi leaves the house, unaware of the events that have recently occurred.
- 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)
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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).
It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres. With a limited American release starting December 3, 2004, it grossed $72,541. A Tale of Two Sisters garnered very positive reviews, with an 87% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, Metacritic scored the film 65 out of 100, meaning "generally favorable reviews" from 19 critics.
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."
Awards and nominations
- Nomination - Best Film
- Best Picture
2003 Korean Film Awards
- Best New Actress - Im Soo-jung
- Best Art Direction - Park Hee-jeong
- Best Sound - Choi Tae-young
- Silver Raven - Yum Jung-ah
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
- Grand Prize
- Prix 13ème Rue
- Youth Jury Grand Prize
- 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.
- "A Tale of Two Sisters (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 June 2004. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
-  Hancinema. Retrieved 2012-06-04
- "A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
- "Fantas Through Awards". Fantasporto. Archived from the original on 27 August 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
- 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]
- "A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 23 July 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2009.
- "A Tale of Two Sisters Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 27, 2009.
- 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.