“Do you know what’s really scary? You want to forget something. Totally wipe it out of your mind. But you never can. It can’t go away, you see. And it follows you around like a ghost.”
A Tale of Two Sisters (aka Janghwa, Hongryeon, literally 'Rose Flower, Red Lotus') is a 2003 South Korean psychological horror film by Kim Ji-woon. It is both the highest-grossing Korean horror film and the first to be screened in American theatres.The film is inspired by a Joseon Dynasty folktale entitled Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, which has been adapted to film several times. An American remake titled The Uninvited was released in 2009—not to be confused with a completely different Korean horror film from 2003 also titled The Uninvited, nor the 1944 American film of that name.The film centers around two teenage sisters, the older Su-mi and the younger Su-yeon, returning to their father Moo-hyeon's house after a stay in a mental institution following the death of their mother. They frequently clash with their new stepmother (formerly their mother's nurse), Eun-ju, who behaves in an incredibly difficult manner around them (and becomes increasingly cruel over the course of the film). Coinciding with their return home, however, are several eerie and frightening events (doors opening by themselves, bizarre apparitions, strange sounds, and terrifying nightmares, amongst other things), and it quickly becomes uncertain if these events are real, a product of the girls' disturbed mental states, or the cruel mind games played by Eun-ju. Or is it something else entirely?Known for having multiple unexpected plot twists and being very open to interpretation.Definitely not to be confused with A Tale of Two Cities.
This film contains examples of:
Adult Fear: Moo-hyeon has already lost his wife. Not only that, but he lost his youngest daughter on the very same day as his wife's death, and his eldest daughter not only hates him, but is also completely batshit insane.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: In this film, there is a lot of stuff that goes on that doesn't immediately make sense and you have to think about it in order to get what is going on. Therefore, Western viewers can be forgiven for the Epileptic Trees they come up with in trying to deduce the symbolism of the tents right by the road in the scene where the girls' uncle and his wife are driving at night. These tents are actually a common sight in rural areas of Korea as they serve an agricultural purpose.
Ax Crazy - Eun-ju near the end of the film... at least, Su-mi's depiction of her.
Color-Coded Characters / Color Motif: This may or may not be intentional, but Su-yeon is often shown wearing light colours and shades (usually white), Su-mi is usually shown in brighter colours with some exceptions, and Eun-ju often wears darker, (and richer) colours. Moo-hyeon, in comparison, is often shown wearing bland colours and shades.
Creepy Doll - Although it is completely inanimate, and is used to both enhance the mood of the film, and to further the plot towards the end.
Foreshadowing: In the very first scene, Su-mi's psychiatrist asks her who she thinks she is - a clue toward's Su-mi's multiple personalities.
Freeze Frame Bonus: In a (horribly creepy) deleted scene, Su-mi is looking in the fridge, and, just as she's closing the door, something that appears to the the back of someone's head can be seen sitting on one of the fridge shelves for a split second. (Su-mi herself actually realises this just after she's closed the door, and yanks it open again... to find nothing there. Brrr.)
The appearance of the girl in the green dress (theorised by some to be Su-yeon, and is most likely the girl under the sink, due to the fact that they seem to be wearing the same dress) during the "girl under the sink" scene could be considered this, as she initially appears behind Eun-ju for a few seconds before the shot changes.
Ghostly Chill: Used to great effect when Eun-ju enters Su-yeon's old room towards the end of the film.
Jump Scare: Quite a few of them. A good example would be when the girl under the sink grabs Eun-ju's wrist. The audience knows that something is going to happen, but it doesn't make the scene any less tense.
Kick the Dog: Eun-ju's treatment of Su-yeon, both real and imagined.
Mood Whiplash: Used on a few occasions, most notably in the scene where the girls are going through their mother's old belongings. It starts out as a sweet moment where the girls are remembering happier times and Su-yeon is deciding which of the belongings she wishes to keep - and then it suddenly becomes sinister when Su-mi notices small, bloody scratches and bruises on Su-yeon's arms...
Also, during the same scene but before Su-yeon turns up, Su-mi is happily looking through some old photographs... until she comes across one with Eun-ju in it, and every picture after that features her hovering in the background...
No Periods, Period: Averted. Su-mi wakes up to find blood where Su-yeon was sleeping, indicating that the latter started her period during the night. She then goes into Eun-ju's bathroom to borrow some sanitary pads. Eun-ju then comments how interesting it is that she also got her period on the same day. A short while later, Su-mi goes to the toilet, where she discovers to her surprise that she too has started her period. The reason for this becomes clear at the end of the film.
Oedipus Complex: Following The Reveal, the earlier scene where Eun-ju waits in bed for Moo-hyeon (who reluctantly puts his arm around her to get her to sleep) takes on a very different light. This is only a partial example, as Su-mi genuinely believes herself to be Eun-ju at this point.
Once More With Clarity: Following The Reveal that Su-mi has a split personality, events depicting Eun-ju from earlier are played out again, except this time showing it was Su-mi all along.
The Reveal - Three, and they're all equally as unexpected and shocking as each other. The first is when it is revealed that Su-yeon has actually been dead all along, having died prior to the events of the film, and her presence is most likely a figment of Su-mi's imagination (although it can also be interpreted that her presence is a non-malevolent ghost who doesn't even realise that she's dead, but that depends on how you view the film). The second is when it is revealed that Su-mi was imagining herself to be Eun-ju, due to a severe case of multiple personality disorder, and Eun-ju was never in the house throughout the events of the film to begin with - the real Eun-ju only shows up at the end, to help return Su-mi to the mental institution. And third, though essentially absolved by the reveal of Su-mi's psychosis, Eun-ju turns out to have knowingly allowed Su-yeon to die before marrying her father.
In The Uninvited, Rachel (the Eun-ju equivalent) was around the whole film. The reason Anna (Su-mi) intially cracked was that she witnessed her father cheating on her mother with Rachel and decided to burn the house down. A trail of gasoline and a knocked-over candle result in her mother and Alex (Su-yeon) burning alive in the second house before Anna can reach the main house. Guilt drives her insane.
The Speechless: Su-mi absolutely refuses to speak in the opening scene and, later in the film, when she is returned to the psychiatric hospital, and it seems likely to be due to the trauma of everything she's been through.