Janghwa, Hongryeon (A Tale of Two Sisters) (2003) – 4/5

Yikes. Scary as hell. Some parts, at least. Those Koreans (?) sure know how to do their horror right. Confusing and strange too, but scary, and a bit sad. Truly the stuff of nightmares. Why can’t mainstream Hollywood make films this gosh darn scary? This movie barely had a coherent plot yet it still managed to be more effectively chilling than most of the stuff out there.

Granted, it is a bit slow, especially at the beginning. And the fact that very little of what happens in the first 2/3ds makes any kind of sense is going to lose some people. It almost did me. But I’m a trooper and stuck with it, and am glad I did because it really paid off scare-wise. God.

It’s all subtle horror, though horror may be too strong a word for it. It’s more of a psychological thriller wrapped in a ghost story, sort of. And most of it is vague and symbolic up until the end when things are finally explained and you realize that it wasn’t all a complete waste of time after all.

The weird structure isn’t necessarily a fault of the film; American audiences simply aren’t used to not having things clearly spelled out for them, myself included. In this, you always have some vague idea of what’s going on, but just barely. And as the movie progresses and becomes increasingly weirder and more violent, its main story finally starts to emerge. It’s an interesting structural choice that only pays off if the person watching is patient, which isn’t always going to be the case.

As far as scares, there are only two really scary scenes in the film, with one being so freaking scary that it nearly stops the film cold. It was arguably one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a film, and, without going into specifics, involves a hysterical woman and the bottom of a kitchen sink. My God. Brilliant, but it nearly gave me a heart attack. That whole kitchen scene is strange and disturbing, and, if you’re like me, will have you cowering in a corner.

That’s not to say the rest of the film is a jolly walk in the park. It’s very creepy throughout, with an emphasis more on silence, darkness, and atmosphere than conventional “jump” scares, though there are a few of those in there as well.

Aside from the slow pacing, I also didn’t buy the ending completely. I guess it’s somewhat plausible, but eh. I just didn’t buy that a person could be so heartless. The character just didn’t have a very strong motivation to do what she did. And did no one else aside from that main character figure out what happened and who was responsible? They all heard the sound, after all. Suspicions would have been raised.

Overall, a good film. Scary and disturbing, and full of cute Asian girls looking scared, especially the main character with her big pouty lips and scared facial expressions. The sister is quite the looker herself, and a good actress. The actors all do an excellent job; I was totally sold.

Worth watching, but be patient as it takes a while to get going.

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