In recent times Korea has become the place to watch for unique and inventive horror films. One of the most talked about films from this new wave of Korean cinema is Ji-woon Kim's startling A Tale of Two Sisters, which has been given a lavish two-disc special edition release in the UK by Tartan - and it's this release that is under review here.
A Tale of Two Sisters is a deeply unsettling film that tells the story of a young girl, Su-mi, returning to the family home following a spell of mental illness. At the start of the film we see the family pull up in their car and out of the car get the two sisters, Su-mi and Su-Yeon, and their parents - the father, Bae Moo-hyeon, and stepmother, Eun-joo. This is an important establishing scene because although everything seems normal on the surface of things, all is not what it seems.
As the film progresses things get increasingly strange and bizarre - and what at first appeared to be a simple Asian ghost flick soon becomes something much more psychologically horrifying and profoundly disturbing.
It would be nearly impossible to give a synopsis of the story without giving away some major spoilers, which I'm loath to do, as this would spoil the fun. The best way to encapsulate the film's plot without giving anything away is by saying that it's a story of madness and death told from the perspective of a deranged and delusional mind - that should give you some indication of what you're in for. The film twists and turns and every time you think you've got the film nailed, it throws you another curve. This is a very, very clever movie and, unlike Hollywood fare, never spells out to the viewer exactly what's going on and has an ending that is open to any number of different interpretations. Not that that's a bad thing, for once us viewers have to actually think about the film we're watching.
The performances from each and every one of the actors and actresses involved are first rate. Su-jeong Lim gives a heart-wrenching and deeply emotionally performance as the tortured Su-mi whilst in direct contrast Kap-su Kim delivers an emotionally distant and unresponsive portrayal of Su-mi's father. These two opposing ends of the emotional spectrum help to the give the film its depth and deliver a profound impact. The brilliance of the performers gives added enhancement to the superb direction and cinematography - the way the camera prowls around the house and how we're given brief glimpses of something unnatural going on is pure genius. Every shadow, every nook and cranny, hides a secret that seems almost too terrible to be revealed - and it's a credit to the director and crew that they were able to not only create but also to sustain this atmosphere throughout the running time. Ji-woon Kim is definitely a director to watch out for in years to come - especially if this film is any indication of what is to come.
The Tartan release is a stellar affair with an incredible transfer of the film. Presented in a 1.85:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the image is pin-sharp and free of blemish or visible defect - I certainly didn't spot any problems with the visual presentation. It looks every bit as good as the Korean R3 release and cannot be faulted in any way. The colours are bright and vivid and remain consistent throughout and the blacks remain solid with no digital smearing. In fact, I think the R2 has the edge over the Korean R3 release, the colouring seemed a little better and the general look of the film seemed more pleasing to my eyes. The audio options are equally impressive with the choice of three Korean audio tracks - 2.0 stereo, DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1. All three are pretty good, but the 5.1 DD or DTS are better than the simple stereo mix, creating a very unnerving audio ambience, which certainly enhances the viewing experience and makes full (and subtle at times) use of the surround sound platform.
Not ones to skimp on extras, as well as the audio commentaries, which accompany the main feature, Tartan have devoted a whole second disc to extra features. Included on this second disc are interviews, featurettes, behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and outtakes - all of which give added value to the purchase of this film. Especially when you consider that the R3 disc contains no extra features whatsoever!
Tartan are to be commended for the time and effort they have obviously put into this release and fans of Asian horror should definitely add this title to their collection. The film itself is very unique, even within Asian circles, and is well worth at least one viewing (though you may need to watch this more than once to take it all in!) and certainly comes highly recommended from this reviewer. Few films tackle the subject of madness, paranoia and regret as well as this movie does and I have extreme doubts that the proposed American remake will come anywhere close to creating the terrifying atmosphere that is present in this original - so make sure you watch this one first!
Review by C J Otter
|Released by Tartan|
|Rated 18 - Region 0 (PAL)|
|see main review|