A Tale of Two Sister (Janghwa, Hongryeon) [2003]

” You want to forget something. Totally wipe it off your mind. But you never can. It can’t go away, you see. And… and it follows you around like a ghost.”

Director : Jee-woon Kim

Writer : Jee-woon Kim

Cast : Su-jeong Lim, Geun-Young Moon, Jung-ah Yum, Kap-su Kim

Story : This one is hard. It is a simple story in the end when all the pieces just fall together perfectly, but while you are watching it you’re like what the heck is going on. But this is not what I should write at the story part so here it goes.

The movie starts in the present, a doctor, clearly in a mental hospital, slowly washes his hand while a patient is entering the room. While he talks we know the patient is getting closer and closer but the camera is taunting/stalling  you a bit, you can’t see who is coming, you are only shown the eye movement of the doctor and then a shadow. This scene sets the atmosphere, and i like to think that it also gives you the key to understanding the film, you just always have to question what you see. I’m getting off-road again.

The patient is Su-Mi (Su-jeong Lim), we can’t see her face or hear her voice we just see the doctor’s failed attempts to communicate until the moment he shows her a picture of her family, Su-Mi then raises her head and we start walking down in memory lane.

Su-Mi and her sister, Su-Yeon, are going back home after being sick, it is only hinted that they were coming back from a mental hospital (later on it’s clear), they take their time with entering the house and you soon realize it is because of their stepmother. You hate her after like 2 seconds already so it is more than easy to sympathise with the girls. As the day progresses things start to spiral down, a horrible family dinner which leaves bitterness floating around the house and an incredibly scary night-time visit from a ghost.

I know how it sounds, but this isn’t a scary ghost horror film, this is, well I have to say, a masterpiece about the human mind, but I hate spoilers so I’ll stop here.

What I Liked About It :

– now this list is huge : first of all the story, it’s rare to see such a complex one and the whole method of showing it to us was great, it’s not the first time to see this style, but it was the first time it matched the story perfectly; thinking back it’s full of hints, motives the leads you subconsciously to the true meanings, and this is another reasons to why this film requires repeated viewings.

– all the actors did a great job, Geun-Young Moon was the perfect match for the role of Su-Yeon, I watched this movie with a friend of mine and he was like I wish I could kiss her forehead anytime he saw her, she just seemed so sweet, innocent and in need of defence. But Jung-ah Yum stole every scene she was in, never seen such a great actress, she plays every aspect of her character perfectly, and those eyes reflected every feeling perfectly. She was just simply brilliant.

– the cinematography – beautiful, I loved the deep red tones

– the soundtrack – amazing, haunting and always in tune with what was happening in the scenes

– the scary scenes – there isn’t many, five or so, maybe not even that many, but each of these scenes will scare out everything you ate and drank before and during the  movie

– well as I said, the list is huge and I could go on and on,  bring out different aspects that amazed me, but I already talked way too much and all I can say that watch this movie, if you will only watch one film in your life watch this.

What I Didn’t Like :

– that it’s labeled as a horror movie, but it’s so much more than that, it’s a psychological thriller, a chilling drama, a heart-wrenching tragedy.

Final Note :

4 out of 4

Links :

– it’s an imdb forum link explaining every bit of the movie, but it’s an after-read

– and a wikipedia article about the folktale on which the movie is loosely based

Online :


6 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Sister (Janghwa, Hongryeon) [2003]

  1. Great review. This is an awesome film. The story is complex but enjoyable and it invites mulitple viewings which is brilliant. The visuals are so crisp and pretty innovative with some of the scenes. I agree with you about it being a psychological thriller and not a horror. If you liked this you should watch Kim Jee-woon’s comedy-horror, The Quiet Family. It’s great!

  2. Thanks! I’m glad you liked my post. After I watched this, I checked out other works from Kim Jee-woon, right now I have the I Saw The Devil and The good, the Bad, the Weird, but I’ll try to get The Quiet Family too and watch it. Thank for your recommendation. Have you seen these ones from him?

    • I watched The Good, the Bad, the Weird in a cinema. I loved it a lot but it went on for too long and I felt it dragged a bit. It is a pretty audacious movie (a South Korean western) and it’s got a lot of exciting gunfights and chases. I have yet to see I Saw the Devil. but I own A Bittersweet Life and hope to review it soon.

      • i’m still waiting for my brother to watch together The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but with him living in another country i think it won’t be too soon, or i’ll just watch it alone. I’m rather curious about his upcoming movie, i can’t wait to see what he is going to do with Schwarzenegger. I’ll better watch Bittersweet Life soon the and i’m looking forward to reading your review.

  3. This is a great movie – I must watch it again. Thanks for the reminder!

    I wrote a related comment on MIB’s Instant Headache blog (http://mibih.wordpress.com/), so I’ll simply copy it here:

    I love South Korean cinema! Have you seen “Memories of Murder” (2003)? It is superb. “Thirst” (2009) is also very good. “The Chaser” (2008) too.

    People rave about “I Saw the Devil” (2010) but I didn’t think it was THAT good. Worth seeing, though.

    I’ve reviewed “Memories of Murder”:


    • i’ve seen only Memories of murder, and I have The Chaser but just didn’t get around watching it yet. Memories of Murder knocked me on my ass, remarkable movie, then again so did The Host from the same director. I plan on watching all his movies, these movie are just simply on another level.
      I haven’t heard about Thirst, but I will check it out cause it sound good, thanks for the recommendation.

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