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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon (장화홍련전) - A Tale of Two Sisters

by Joan Seth

Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon (장화홍련전) is a Korean folktale from the Josoen era. Basically it is a tragic story about 2 sisters. It later formed the basis for a series of movies, most notably, the Korean horror movie, A Tale of Two Sisters and its American remake, The Uninvited.

Once upon a time, a man had 2 beautiful girls with his wife. However, while the girls were still young, the wife died. The man thus remarried.

The stepmother was vain and evil. After giving birth to 3 sons, she had even more power, and abused the girls even more. But they suffered in silence. One day, Janghwa, the elder girl was to be engaged. However, the evil stepmother decided not to spend any of her money on Janghwa. She put a skinned dead rat on Janghwa's bed, and told the man about it.She said Janghwa was unchaste and had a miscarriage.

Unfortunately, the man believed the stepmother. In shame and confusion, Janghwa decided to run to a pool. The stepmother's eldest son followed her and pushed her into the pool and she drowned. Everyone thought she committed suicide.

Hongryeon, the younger girl was devastated. Soon after, she followed her sister and drowned in the pool.

Over a period of time, strange events kept happening in the village. Every new mayor that came to the village was killed. Eventually, one day, a new mayor came. He heard of the rumours, but he was not afraid. One night, he was visited by the ghosts of the 2 sisters.

Keeping his nerve, he questioned the ghosts about the killings. Janghwa replied that they were only trying to tell the mayor about the truth behind her supposed suicide.

The mayor, after hearing the story, decided to investigate. He exhumed the bodies and realized that the supposed dead foetus was only a dead rat. He immediately sentenced the stepmother and her eldest son to death.

Soon after, the killings stopped. The father later remarried, and had twin baby girls with his new wife, which he believed to be the reincarnations of his daughters.

This story formed the basis for various movies which accurately depicted the whole story in full. A Tale of Two Sisters adapted the story, and infused it with horror elements.

Picture is (C) copyright to Chungeorahm Film

A Tale of Two Sisters tells the story of 2 sisters, Su-Mi and Su-Yeong, who were sent to a mental insitution for reasons unknown. Apparently, their mother had died and their father married thier mother's nurse.

Strange events start to happen in the house, culminating in a bloody fight between the 2 sisters and the stepmother, in which Su-Mi is left unconscious.

Eventually waking up [Spoilers], Su-Mi realizes that the real stepmother had returned with her father. The audience now discovers that all along Su-Yeong was dead, and Su-Mi was acting as the stepmother and sister. She had a case of severe multiple personality disorder. It is also revealed that Su-Mi unknowingly had caused the death of her mother and sister. [Spoilers]

This movie's direction is incredibly good, and the acting is stunning, with the step-mother in particular incredibly good swinging from one mood style to another in the film. The large house adds eeriness, and there are enough points in the film where you will jump out of your seat.

Calling A Tale of Two Sisters just a horror movie is giving it not enough credit. It is more like a mysterious horror-drama that works both on a psychological and supernatural level. No matter how you look at it, this is Asian horror that ranks way up there amongst the finest. It might not be gory, but it gets pretty scary at times and the subject matter is pretty disturbed.


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