This post is brought to you today by the letters “J”, “K” and the number 2. No, you have not found your way to Sesame Street. You are indeed inside the den of haunted house fiction, which to the best of my knowledge is not located on this Muppet-infested street, so you can put away your Elmo flags now. Horror continues to be the agenda. Only now, we add hyphenated prefixes to the word “horror” along with the two letters that sponsor today’s post. Ta-da! This alchemy gives us the words “J-Horror” and “K-horror” or, in other terms, Japanese Horror and Korean Horror.
Today we will touch upon both J and K Horror films, not to be defined as horror films from the mentioned countries, but as genres in and of themselves. Now, what about the number 2? This sad and creepy tale that is up for review features “two” unfortunate sisters that are victims of tragedy and misfortune. Hence, the title of this Korean film is A Tale of Two Sisters.
In preparation for this article, I “Googled” and “Yahooed” the words “Asian horror.” Yahoo took the liberty of providing several links that had the words “Japanese Horror” in the title. Google kept the search confined to my key words only. On Wikipedia, under the category “Asian Horror”, Japanese and Korean Film are singled out from other Asian horror-film producing countries.
Asian horror films are horror, thriller and suspense films made in Asian countries, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, that generally follow the conventions of J-Horror (Japan) and K-Horror (Korea).
What are these conventions that the above quote references? Again according to Wikipedia, J-Horror “tends to focus on psychological horror and tension building (suspense), particularly involving ghosts (yūrei) and poltergeists, while many contain themes of folk religion such as: possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai.”
Take all the stuff above and throw a house into the mix, and the results will yield stories that are perfect subject for this blog. So far I have reviewed two J-Horror films – Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2 . I enjoyed them both and I promise to get to The Grudge soon. After all, it made my Top 50 Horror movie list. as did Ringu, which will not be reviewed since it doesn’t feature a haunted house (Alas!)
Suffice it to say, I am a fan of J-Horror and its ghostly tales of suspense that play heavily upon the emotional states of the characters. What of K-Horror? It is similar to J-Horror:
According to wikipedia:
Many of the Korean horror films tend to focus on the suffering and the anguish of characters rather than focus on the explicit “blood and guts” aspect of horror. Korean horror features many of the same motifs, themes, and imagery as Japanese horror
The article goes on to state the popularity of the female ghost in Korean horror films.
A Tale of Two Sisters has all the aforementioned qualifications from the preceding quote. It also has the female ghost. The story takes place in a house occupied by a dysfunctional family…and perhaps…a few other entities. Therefore it is a haunted house story and its style is very much to my tastes. That said, let’s delve into it, shall we?
This is a creepy film; ghosts creep around corners, creep out of cabinets, creep up to its victims as they lie in bed at night. What is the opposite of “creep?” Perhaps “jump”, as in “jump-scares”. I prefer the creeping ghost to the ghouls that suddenly jump-out and go “boo!” Also, I like a camera that doesn’t rush. I like when it that takes its time treading corridors, thereby capturing many shapes and shadows along the way. The camera work in this film accomplishes this to the tee!
The story is as follows: Teenaged Su-mi is released from a mental hospital to the care of her father in his countryside home, which was also her childhood home. A tragedy took place in this house years before; a tragedy that psychologically damaged Su-mi and necessitated her stay in the institution. But she is home now, reunited with her younger sister Su-yeon, whom she cherishes, and her step mother Eun-jo, whom she despises. Soon after the reunions, the hauntings begin. Su-mi and Eun-jo bear the brunt of the hauntings; the father never seems to realize that there is anything “supernaturally amiss”. Meanwhile, the hostilities between Eun-jo and Su-mi grow while Eun-jo often acts cruelly and abusive toward poor Su-yeon.
So what’s going on here? A whole lot of “projection”, that’s what. This is a term I have used in other reviews. Basically, it’s when the mind of one of the characters is haunted (by saddness, repressed memories, etc,) and through the eyes of the character, acting like a film projector, the haunting is unleashed onto the house, which acts like the screen. Are the ghosts real or are they only figments of a tortured mind? This mystery plays out through the film. In fact it gets so complex that viewers are prone to get confused as to what is real and what isn’t. This is one of the drawbacks of the film – it has too many twists for its own good. It’s like opening a gift box, only to find yet a smaller box, which holds yet a smaller box, and finally the contents are revealed: there is a note which states that you’ve been opening the wrong gift all along! The movie has riddles wrapped in enigmas that are showered in mysteries. Trying to figure out what is going on disrupts the creepy flow of this film.
Here’s a hint: If there is a group of characters in any given scene, pay attention to which characters are silent; to which characters are not on the receiving end of a conversation. Likewise, are there any character combinations that are kept to a minimum? If so, why is that?
The film has all the stuff of psychology. It has memories that won’t die, memories that are continuously trying to be locked away but to no avail. The film is about disassociation. It is about guilt. It is about love and longing and bitterness and hate. It is about confronting reality…or running the hell away from it.
If after watching the film you find yourself confused, I recommend reading the plot summary at Wikipedia’s “A Tale of Two Sisters” article. It reveals all. There is one major twist that I did not get. Upon reading the revelation, I can understand how it plays out, but I don’t like it so much. I think it would have been better if the film had only the twist that I did understand better, for reasons that I can’t reveal.
Despite it’s burdensome complexity, this is an effectively chilling film. And who knows more about chilling things then our old friend The Count! Hey Count, laugh if you love this review!