Original Korean Title: Janghwa, Hongryeon
Directed by: Ji-Woon Kim
Written by: Ji-woon Kim
Starring: Kim Kap-su, Yum Jung-ah, Lim Su-jeong, and Mun Geun-yeong

Okay, I’ll just come right out and say it: Hollywood has forgotten how to do horror. Oh sure, they still release titles under the banner of horror, but the dark heart and twisted soul of the genre have withered and atrophied under the weight of the studio mandated PG-13 and a reliance on digital effects. America’s Asian counterparts, however, still know how to get it right. And never has a horror film been more beautifully executed than in writer-director Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters.

At its core, this South Korean film is a very grim fairy tale. The two sisters of the title are Su-mi (Lim Su-jeong) and Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong). After a mysterious hospital stay, the siblings return home to find their stepmother (Yum Jung-ah) wants to pretend they’re all one big happy family. In reality, this stepmother is quite wicked indeed, and the siblings would love nothing more than to expose her evil ways to their father (Kim Kap-su), if only he would pay them any attention. As if their family problems weren’t enough, Su-mi begins to have tortured visions. She hears strange noises in the hall–as if someone is running around. Doors open by themselves and, worst of all, dark phantoms start appearing in her bedroom.

Why does the stepmother have such an intense hatred for Su-yeon? Why were the girls hospitalized? And is this house really haunted, or is everyone in this family mad as a hatter?

Ji Woon Kim keeps us guessing as he lets the story slowly unfold before our willing eyes. And what a gorgeously photographed story it is! Mo-gae Lee’s cinematography and Geun-hyeon Jo’s art direction make every shot of this film worth framing. The colors are vibrant and the composition shows a painter’s eye for detail.

The sound design for A Tale of Two Sisters is just as exquisite. Quiet scenes where nothing seems to be happening turn into creepy moments that bring you to the edge of your seat with a single noise. And the haunting score by Byung-woo Lee helps to build tension throughout.

Revelations in the shocking climax will make you look at the entire film in a new light. This is a movie that screams for repeated viewing. Like The Sixth Sense, Identity, and Session 9 before it, A Tale of Two Sisters will have you thinking long after the credits have ended. This is a psychologically complex, visually dense work that will be talked about in horror circles for years to come.

4.5 out of 5 stars