A Tale of Two Sisters
by Kim Jee Woon
Has there been any interviews regarding Kim Jee Woon’s thoughts when writing and directing “A Tale of Two Sisters”? I have been searching all over the web, and I have come to nothing but opinions from both critics and viewers. Is the charm of the this movie based upon the speculations of the plot behind the story? I have read the synopsis, description, and criticism online; none seem to entirely agree to my interpretation of this movie.
First and foremost: the movie is said to be inspired by the Korean folktale, “Janghwa and Hongryeon.” That was the first thing I tried to research online. From what I gathered, Janghwa and Hongryeon were sisters. Their mother died. Their father remarried. The stepmother was evil. The stepmother caused the death of the two sisters. The sisters haunted the local magistrate to seek justice for their death. The story ends when the sisters’ unjust death has been put to light and the perpetrator, evil stepmom, is punished for her crime.
The movie raw synopsis: Two young girl, Su-Mi and Su-Yeon, are sister who were away. In the beginning of the movie, the two sisters are seen returning home to their father (Mu-Hyun) and stepmother (Eun-Joo). Su-Yeon is the timid younger sister who gets abused by the stepmother. Su-Mi is seen protecting her younger sister from their stepmother. The father seems oblivious to the abuse. The house appears to be haunted.
I’m not going to go into details about the acting, scenery, and directing of this movie. It was beautifully done. I am only going to delve upon the plot behind the story. What was the intention of Kim Jee Woon when he wrote this script? This movie is eerie, psychological, and sad. The question remains; what really happened and what was imagined by Su-Mi.
The twist to the story: Su-Yeon is dead. Su-Mi is being treated in a mental hospital. Inferences are made in the story that Su-Mi has multiple personality disorder.
My interpretation: I apologize if I am way off mark. I have only seen the movie once after writing this review. But this is my interpretation of the movie. I will try to explain why while I am making my spiel. Su-Mi and Su-Yeon’s father, Mu-Hyun, is a physician. (Hence the photographs of him in a white gown.) Eun-Joo is his colleague, a nurse. (Hence the photographs of her in a white gown and nurse cap next to Mu-Hyun. It is her face that is later scribbled across.) Su-Mi does not get along with Eun-Joo. Su-Mi may possibly think Eun-Joo is a threat to her parents’ marriageable bliss. Su-Yeon wakes up one morning to find her mother dead in the closet. The closet falls over and traps Su-Yeon underneath. Eun-Joo hears the noise from the fallen closet, walks into the room on the second floor, hears Su-Yeon, but walks away frightened. She encounters Su-Mi in the hallway, who questions her presence on the second floor. (“Why are you on the second floor? My dad is downstairs.” This comment suggests Su-Mi’s perceived relationship between Eun-Joo and Mu-Hyuk.) Eun-Joo asked if Su-Mi heard a noise. Su-Mi’s negative response followed by curt retort, “Stay out of my family’s affairs” is followed by Eun-Joo’s, “You might regret saying that.” Su-Mi walks off; Eun-Joo does not alert anyone in the household about the fallen closet; Su-Yeon dies. Su-Mi is traumatized by the death of her mother and younger sister. She gets admitted to the hospital. (Hence, the scene from the beginning of the movie.) The scene where Su-Yeon gets abused never occurred. (Su-Yeon is already dead. Throughout the movie, Mu-Hyuk only talks directly to Su-Mi.) Eun-Joo’s presence in the house as the new stepmother never existed. (While Mu-Hyuk only talks to Su-Mi throughout the movie, Eun-Joo’s characters talks to both Su-Mi and Su-Yeon.) These scenes are all imagined due to Su-Mi mental instability. Certain follow-up scenes reveals Su-Mi’s multiple personality. The medication Mu-Hyuk gives to Eun-Joo was really given to Su-Mi who imagined herself as Eun-Joo. The scenes where Eun-Joo murdered Su-Yeon in a hemp bag and attempts to murder Su-Mi with a statue was really Su-Mi murdering a mannequin stuffed in a hemp bag followed by a suicide attempt with a statue falling over herself. The imagined murder and abuse were linked the closet is due to the the closet association to Su-Yeon’s actual death, which was death underneath the fallen closet. Su-Yeon did not get her period; Su-Mi did. (At this time, Su-Yeon was already dead.) Furthermore, when Su-Mi snuck into Eun-Joo’s room to get pads, she was confronted by Eun-Joo who remarked that Su-Yeon and herself (Eun-Joo) got their periods on the same day. This scene was also imagined because both Su-Yeon and Eun-Joo did not exist in the house. The only person that resided in the house was Su-Mi and Mu-Hyuk. The times that Mu-Hyuk does talk to Eun-Joo were either scenes imagined by Su-Mi or directed towards Su-Mi who perceived herself as Eun-Joo. Aside from the follow-up scenes which revealed that Su-Mi was the only one that returned with Mu-Hyuk in the beginning of the movie, the ending shows Su-Mi perceiving herself as Eun-Joo being confronted by the real Eun-Joo.
What I still don’t understand about the movie: What was the relationship between Eun-Joo and Mu-Hyuk? Were they merely colleagues? Because Eun-Joo had to tolerate his Su-Mi tactless remarks on the second floor. Why did Mu-Hyuk’s wife commit suicide? She hung herself in the closet and a medicine bottle rolled out. Was she mentally unstable? Why did Eun-Joo not alert the household that someone was trapped underneath the closet? It seems odd to let that person die out of spite of Su-Mi’s remark. Furthermore, the haunting of the house appears to disturb Su-Mi and her multiple personalities. This can be attributed to Su-Mi’s mental instability. But the show extends the haunting to include Mu-Hyuk’s sister-in-law who had a seizure and noticed a girl underneath the kitchen sink. Then it ends with the haunting to include the real Eun-Joo, who was sitting in the house. Was the house also haunted; a small side story to confuse the viewers and add an eerie feeling to the psychological thriller? During Su-Mi’s multiple personality episode, where she perceives herself as Eun-Joo and was talking to her uncle; how did she come up with the stories that she recollected to her uncle? Granted, they must have been made up since the uncle remarks never remembering any of its occurrence in a serious and cautious manner.
Overall. It was an interesting story. It leaves a lot to think about. What was Kim Jee Woon overall thoughts when he first wrote the story. The storyline can be said to be inspired by the Korean folktale only because it includes two sisters, their father, and an imaginary evil stepmother. The comparison ends there.
Side note: I remember Su-Mi having one nightmare with flash backs. It all happened so fast. No idea what was being seen. This nightmare flash back was followed by a haunting prior to her period.
Sorry it's a long post, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on this movie and after reading my interpretation.