TKFF 2012 – A Tale of Two Sisters Review (Kirk Haviland)

Toronto Korean Film Festival 2012

A Tale of Two Sisters

Starring Kim Kap-su, Yum Jung-ah, Lim Su-jeong and Moon Guen-young

Written and Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

After bursting on to the scene back in the late nineties with The Quiet Family (1998) and the Foul King (2000), director Kim Jee-Woon’s first international success came with A Tale of Two Sisters in 2003. This film has personally been avoiding me for a while, despite the fact that I actually OWN a copy of the DVD and for some reason it’s never jumped to the top consideration for movies in the pile of other contenders. But thanks to TKFF I was able to see it not only on the theater screen at Innis but also on a beautiful 35mm print. And I have to tell you I’m so glad I waited.

A Tale of Two Sisters starts with the return of Soo-mi (Su-yeong) and Soo-yeon (Guen-young) to their home in the country after stay in a mental health institution. The Sisters were placed under psychiatric care after the death of her mother, the details of which we are not privy to right away but will see unfurl over the course of the film, which had a dramatic effect on the two of them. Their step-mother Eun-joo (Jung-ah) is awaiting their return; she came on the scene during their mother’s illness and never left. Eun-joo is a domineering and abusive woman and takes out her frustrations on Soo-yeon as she physically assaults her and throws her into a wardrobe and locks the door on her. Soo-mi is defiant and pushes back against Eun-joo at every turn while desperately try to fill the void of missing mother for the more gentle Soo-yeon. But things are never as they seem in this household and Soo-mi’s secret could cause everything to come crashing down.

A Tale of Two Sisters is the story of a troubled young girl and requires a strong performance to pull it off. Fortunately the performances are strong all around. Brilliantly paced and thought out, Jee-woon has crafted a sublime little thriller here. The sisters played by Lim Su-jeong and Moon Guen-young are completely believable as siblings. Both turn in fantastic performances despite having little experience at the time. Yum Jung-Ah as the step-mother is ingeniously vicious and menacing throughout. Jee-woon’s expertise is used to the fullest here creating a creepy and uneasy atmosphere and never taking the easy way out with the story. You can easily tell where the staging here has paid off in later films of his, like 2010’s I Saw the Devil.

Gripping and involving, A Tale of Two Sisters succeeds in both tone and story. I can say that Tale of Two Sister is a pretty strong recommend.

The Toronto Korean Film Festival continues until July 1st with screenings of the amazing Mother, Failan and a near perfect cinematic closing night of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and one of my favorite films of ALL TIME in Oldboy. Tickets still available.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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