South Korea, 2003
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 22 February 2005
Source Tartan Films 35mm print
The influence of Asian horror films has become tremendous, and the greatest offense of this influence is demonstrated in the numerous American remakes, Ringu and Ju-on being the paramount examples, both with profitable and comparatively more accessible English-language versions. I can only attest to the passable decency of the former’s remake, but in both cases I suspect the better film is concealed by the more expensive production.
This compendium of contemporary Asian horror exudes tangible suspense, patience, and simplicity. I suspect these traits warrant importing, as such an accomplished grasp of horror has been generally unavailable in American films for nearly the past thirty years.
Many of these qualities are exhibited well in Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters, comprised evenly of tracking shots that forward tension, and variety between perfectly symmetrical compositions and discordant angles. In this film, anxiety is often forwarded in the subtlest cinematographic gesture. The film also possesses a bounty of scare chords, the most manipulative features of all horror films. The effect is always frightening, surely, but the aural effect (in this case the chord is rendered on violin strings) is incidental to context—the sound would still be frightening when accompanying someone brushing his teeth. A shame, in this case, as the film’s content supports such responses of fright, and the generic manipulation is unnecessary.
There are also contrivances in the narrative (the bulk of the film is in flashback, and it hinges on a descriptive revelation when its prior ambiguity is more effective). Even though its components may be familiar, it is made with precision and sophistication and is, by default, better than any original American horror film of the past few years.