Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim) and See-yeon (Geun-Young Moon) were released from hospitalization after the death of their mother. Once the sisters entered their home, they were welcomed by their stepmother, Eun-joo (Jung-ah Yum), the nurse who took care of their formerly depressed mom. The two sisters were not at all happy with their father’s (Kap-su Kim) decision to marry so quickly. But upon the girls’ arrival, strange things started to occur around the house especially at night when everyone was asleep. “Janghwa, Hongryeon,” also known as “A Tale of Two Sisters,” written and directed by Jee-woon Kim, was a wonderful blend of the smart supernatural horror and edgy psychological thriller. Right away, we could feel that something was not quite right although it wasn’t easy to pinpoint exactly what was off. It could be the house, the way the floorboards creaked when everyone was supposed to be in bed. It could be Eun-joo, the way she came off as a bit unhinged. In some scenes, she looked pristine, equipped with a perfect posture while exuding elegance as she moved from one point to another. In some scenes, she looked like a complete mess, like someone who hadn’t gotten out of bed for several days. Or it could be the sisters, the way they stuck so close together and kept secrets even from their father. There was a possibility that they weren’t yet ready to be released from the hospital. The scenes involving the ghosts were masterfully done. When one of the characters investigated something curious under the sink, notice that the camera explored every possible angle using the character’s body as a reference point without feeling choppy. When she looked to her left, we could see what was behind her; when she looked down, we focused on her angular shoulders, just in case something would appear sneakily from there. The camera would suddenly cut to another angle so we had a chance to see what she saw. The scene unfolded very slowly which was necessary to really build a sense of unease. When a jump-out-of-your-seat moment inevitably arrived, the writer-director’s confidence was noticeable. Instead of cutting to a new scene, it continued to build until the next shock. But it wasn’t over just yet. I was impressed because of the way it dared to take risks. Safe is moving onto the next scene, due to fear of diminishing returns, after one good scare. I felt that the filmmakers wanted to reward its audiences by giving us something memorable, not cheap scares we just forget a couple of minutes after the movie ended. Furthermore, we cared for the characters, as mysterious as they were, because we had an idea of their backstory. When the backstory was challenged by inserting missing pieces of the puzzle and eventually allowed us to see the big picture, the twists and turns felt organic rather than gimmicky. When something was revealed, although initially horrific, there was an atmosphere of sadness about it, too. “A Tale of Two Sisters,” supported by strong acting, was imaginative, chilling, and touching seemingly without effort. Western filmmakers can learn a thing or two from the way the story was allowed to unspool elegantly.