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Sometimes I can be forgiving. After delivering what in my eyes is still the worst film of the last two years, I still decided to check out “the other reason” why anybody would give Kim Ji-woon a bunch of million dollars to make a fool out of Arnold Schwarzenegger (as if he needed Korean help for that). One reason was “I Saw The Devil”, I suppose, which many loved (myself? Not as much as others…). The other reason was “A Tale of Two Sisters”. This one managed to wangle a major US release and become a stunning success (some 70 Million US, I think). Which is a bit surprising actually: This film is very quiet, mellow, moody and atmospheric, you will not find the trademark mutilation or other forms of violence today are so typical for the new Korean cinema. It may not even be a horror film, but a film about how horrible life sometimes is.

I suggest to watch the film without knowing anything about it, then sitting down with several grams of alcohol and thinking hard about what it was about, and then read the plot summary on Wikipedia. I needed it (but maybe that was because I opened a bottle halfway through and lost focus). While the story arch is somehow easy to write down (“two girls being shoved into father’s new family and not getting along with stepmother, plus being haunted by ghosts of the past”), that description may include at least three contentious claims. It does not matter, though, whether at any point you feel you know what is going on. The film is about the atmosphere of adolescent fears, rejection, and guilt (as so often with “horror” films), and that atmosphere is crafted in style. If the audience is sometimes left alone with the question of what is real and what is not, it is consoling that for the film’s characters, this also applies, and with much more severe impact. The teenage actresses are also very convincing in conveying this, the adult actors a little bit less so. (The stepmother always appeared to over-act, and I could not figure out whether this was intentional or whether she is just not a very good actress. Looking at her oeuvre and seeing that she mainly worked in Korean TV shows before, I am leaning towards the latter, but that may be unfair…).

Hence, Mr Kim, I appreciate you are not in general a useless director. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a pretty good movie, even though it lacks original elements (unless you count “audience confusion”). I just wished you would pick your projects a bit better in the future. If I take the succession of “Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil” and “Last Stand” as an indicator for what’s next, you are not riding a good vector… What about making a film at home again, and proving that you are not a one-hit wonder?

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1143939-1143939-tale_of_two_sisters/

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