Why this Korean horror film was revolutionary


The dialogue takes a back seat to the iconographic elements of horror films, thus creating the capacity to frighten the global community, regardless of the languages ​​spoken. This transnational attraction may be linked to the mysterious South Korean horror of Kim Jee-Woon in 2003 A story of two sisters, which was a huge economic success in his country of origin and in the world.

Not only was 2003 an important year for Korean cinema (Oldboy, Memories of Murder), corn A story of two sisters was revolutionary for bringing South Korean cinema to the world stage as well. It was the first Korean horror film to screen in the United States and even spawned an American remake with The unwanted (2009). A story of two sisters is an essential film in the history of cinema and proves that horror is a universal language.


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The story of A story of two sisters derives from the Joseon dynasty, which dates back to the 13th century and the last five hundred years before the emergence of the Korean Empire in 1897. This tale tells the story of two deceased sisters whose ghosts visit a city. The original fairy tale has a happy ending, although the movie doesn’t.

story of two sisters

The film begins with a close-up of a man washing his hands, although his hands are not dirty. He’s not in a bathroom, but in a dimly lit room with a table and two chairs, apparently waiting for an important meeting. Is this man a metaphor for feeling some kind of guilt, as he keeps trying to erase something the viewer can’t see? The audience is then introduced to a young girl, Su-mi (Im Soo-Jung), in obvious agitation. She is in a hospital gown and the man shows her a photo of her family: a father, mother, two daughters and another woman next door.

The film then switches to a close-up of a house and we learn that Su-mi has returned from a mental institution. She arrives home with her father, Mu-hyeon (Kim Kap-Soo), stepmother Eun-joo (Yum Jung-ah) and younger sister, Su-yeon (Moon Geun-Young). As the film progresses, disturbing cases begin to occur: Eun-joo’s bird is mutilated, Su-mi sees Eun-joo dragging a bag full of blood, and she continually sees Eun-joo abusing it. by Su-yeon.

From the outset, the gothic presentation of the house is recognized by the international spectator as a generic element typical of horror. This recognized commonality makes the film very understandable for a transnational audience. The cinematography captures the magnificence of the Korean countryside with its lakeside setting and architectural beauty, then contrasts with the colors and brightness of the house. Once the camera leaves the exterior and enters the house, the colors and lighting change from clear to dark. Even the wallpaper itself seems to have an evil life of its own. Lee Byung-woo’s eerie score adds to the overall feel of the film: melodic guitars and strings, sounding like a fairy tale, but its minor tones underscore a more depressing nature.

The story, while Korean, becomes transnational with its familiar characters and themes from Grimm’s fairy tale: the evil stepmother, child abuse, the mental institution, the haunted house, and the dead seeking revenge. The folklore of history predates the war that would divide Korea into two countries, but national adherence to history supersedes any geopolitical event. Kim drew from this story the ancestral and national historical themes that she had carried for so long, then layered it on the fears and instability of the modern Korean family. Underlying this current unease with the Korean nuclear family and aligning it with the apprehension of all families, the director adds another layer of transnational identity.

In recent years, Americans have been obsessed with Korean cinema. Youn Yuh-Jung won the award for best actress for her role in Minari, as well as Bong Joon-ho winning the best film award for Parasite in 2020. This does not mean that Korean cinema has only been successful in recent years, because A story of two sisters was one of the first and still is considered one of South Korea’s greatest psychological horror films of all time. During an interview on A story of two sisters, Director Kim Jee-Woon said, “I think a movie is the border between reality and another world. For me, expressing the real world in real language is not much fun. But, expressing the real world. real world with fantasy, cinematic language is more fun. I think the movie is a door from the real world to the other world, on the other side… And at the end of the day, the movie is about digging a other world in what is happening in reality. ”


This borderline of reality is brought to light when Su-mi continues to tell her father that their stepmother is abusing Su-yeon, and her father somehow continues to reject him. This makes the audience angry and confused, until her father finally broke the traumatic truth. Su-yeon is dead. It is now revealed that Su-mi suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and that she and her father have been alone in the house the entire time. She embodied the personality of Eun-joo and imagined her sister was there when in reality she was gone for the entire movie. Flashbacks are then shown revealing the truth. Viewer can see Su-mi’s terminally ill mother hanged herself in the closet after finding out about Mu-hyeon and Eun-joo’s case, as well as Su-yeon trying to save her but the closet door falls on her. and suffocates him to death.

In the end, yes, A story of two sisters is a horror film, but in reality it is a story of mourning. Just as horror is a universal language, so too are death and suffering. The film is a ghost story on its surface, but it’s also a heartbreaking study of a family torn apart by loss and grief.

The Internet brings people together in an immediacy that was only accessible very recently. Any exchange of cultural ideas and national events in faraway places is brought to our attention in real time. With the ever-expanding social media onslaught, the idea of ​​national and transnational cinema begins to merge, and A story of two sisters is partly at for that.

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