Directed by Directed by Kim Ji-woon, starring Im Soo-jung, Moon Geun-young, Kim kab-su and Eun-Joo.
Released last year to huge acclaim in its native South Korea, Kim Ji-woon's 'A Tale of Two Sisters' has already been optioned for a remake in the US by the powerful DreamWorks machine. If and when that eventually appears, myopic film reviewers will smugly pontificate that it pales in comparison with the original. If it does, then it'll be very poor indeed, because this will hardly go down in the annals of horror classics.
It's not that it's bad; it's simply not what it could have been. And therein lies the biggest frustration. Kim sets up his scenario, and then resorts to messing with our heads to such a degree that he seems to forget where it was he wished to bring the story. Confusing your audience can have its benefits, but here it smacks of a ruse to hide larger deficiencies.
From scene one it's obvious that mental illness of some sort is on the cards here. The task at hand is to separate the disturbed from the disturbance. As the eponymous sisters return home from hospital, it's clear all's not well. They detest their stepmother, their father seems incapable of action, and creepy goings on become commonplace throughout the light-starved, tension-filled house. As the tone gets gloomier, the questions in the viewer's mind mount up. Is what we're seeing real? Where does dream end and reality begin? Is the stepmother evil or are the sisters simply barmy? Some of these questions are answered, many are not.
'A Tale of Two Sisters' is certainly eerie at times, and the mood throughout is one of palpable dread. There is at least one terrifying scene, and a couple of others might revisit you on a dark and lonely night. But sheer terror is a distant second to foreboding, and the director relies far too heavily on quick flashes and cutaways for scares. Another problem is the pacing, with Kim apparently unaware that tension is supposed to build up, not wind down.
If the American remake ever appears, don't believe the guff about the original.