Rose Flower and Red Lotus 

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tottering on the verge to becoming one of my favourite films ever, is the 2003 Korean horror film Janghwa, Hongryeon, or A Tale of Two Sisters in English.

Matt first noticed the great cinematography; I loved the eerie story based on a Korean folktale. The original story has a stepmother, a skinned rat, abortion, drownings, and dismemberments. Can't really go wrong in my book.

The story goes something like this (from the DVD cover):
Something strange is happening when Su-mi and her younger sister, Su-yeon, come home to their fathers large but dark and somewhat foreboding house after a stay in the hospital. Their dad is taciturn and burdened, and their stepmother, Eun-joo, greets them with forced enthusiasm and more than a little sense of irritation. But that's nothing compared to what happens when bedtime rolls around.
I intend to delight my friends with personal screenings once I get my copy of the deluxe edition DVD, so I can't give away too much here.

However, I can't hold back from showing off some delightful tidbits from the film.

Let's start with the trail of blood and bare feet walking over it - this is why one should always wear slippers indoors:

Bloody Trail

A bloody sack in the much-dreaded wardrobe - take that CS Lewis and your honking wardrobe filled with bare-chested fauns and biblical allegories:

Bloody Sack

The very atmospheric kitchen, simmering with enough menstrual imagery to sell a hundred thousand tampons:

The Two Sisters' Kitchen

The film's set is also full of dark wallpaper with floral patterns that, instead of giving off a hint of harmless spring, overwhelm with ominous feminity, reminding us of the original tale's two girls, called Rose Flower and Red Lotus, and hammering home the father's passivity in this house of women.

The creepy house where it all takes place:

Korean Goth House

Writer and director Ji-woon Kim says in the commentary that the house was merely a set but that, after shooting ended, the local government requested that it not be torn down. A monument to Korean horror cinema and, if I could find out where the house is, an addition to the top ten list of Asian horror sightseeing.

The DVD cover also has some commenting value. The edition we rented, had the non-bloody version of this poster:

Janghwa, Hongryeon

Everyone in the non-bloody version was in the same position but the girls were clean. When we took our DVD to the counter, the video store clerk flipped open the box to show us the bloody version inside.

Then there is this version of the poster, with Soo-yeon's arm rigidly at her side, making the sisters symmetrical:

Janghwa, Hongryeon Version 2

Finally, a publicity shot of the sisters with their stepmother, Eun-joo, clutching the two girls:

Janghwa, Hongryeon Version 3

The movie twists the original story around into a brilliant psychological thriller, with enough blood and ghosts that Matt and I had to take frequent breaks to recuperate from our fear. The film's many interpretations - not your typical Korean supernatural revenge psychological horror flick - also had us staying up late reading other viewers' theories.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is planning a remake, probably with some vapid blonde again. My recommendation is to see the original before the remake obliterates its freshness.

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I'm so glad you're back! :) This movie looks really really cool. I think I might have had it TiVo'ed and then forgot to watch it and it went away as happens. I am definitely going to either find it on cable again or rent it. Just seeing those pictures made me feel like I had missed out by letting it get pushed off the TiVo!
It is a really cool movie!

And my plans using the photos worked!

I don't have any horror film friends here in Vancouver (my friends all profess to be scaredy-cats); I try to get them into zombies with Shaun of the Dead ("See? Zombies can be mainstream!") but to no avail. This method will hopefully unearth a few horror-friendly friends...even though A Tale of Two Sisters is not really horror...well, it's genre-bending.
it's not hard to see where the inspiration for the sister's poses come from - the bloodied sisters of the Shining. alive-mutilated-alive-mutilated! Screeaaam!
See, I do watch some horror movies.
This looks great! I like a lot of the Japanese horror flicks, but haven't ventured into other parts of Asia yet. This is going on my netflix cue right now. Thanks!
Maikopunk: these sisters are at least right smack dab in the middle of puberty - give the menstrual blood thing some credit! Menses are always more thought-provoking than mere axed-out-you blood.

Hebdomeros: Yeah! Let me know what you think of it!

Yes, one convert!
OMG i can't believe i've actually seen a crazy horror movie before you! if i'd known you hadn't seen this one i would have recommended - i watched it a year ago and thought of you (is that sick?).
You thought of me?!

I am delighted! :)

Hope you liked the movie. I thought it was one of the better Lynchesque type films ever...and all that forboding gothic horror stuff - yay!
As much as I tend to stay away from subtitled movies (too distracting) this is one that sounds worth the work. Thanks for the recommendation - I think.
Thanks for the movie suggestion. I know just the video store where they might have this. I'll stop by there later today. It looks much more interesting than the Day of the Living Dead, which I think you over-rated (sorry) (but also I got too scared and had to watch it in 4X speed, so I probably missed some of the subtleties)(yes, I'm a wuse).
(First: boo spam commenter...)

Very cool-looking movie. I'd never heard of it...I'll have to seek it out. Maybe sneak it onto my boyfriend's Netflix queue.

Thanks for sharing yet another tidbit from your brimming chest of horrors.
I have GOT to see this... I love asian horror movies but I've only seen a handful. Something about the different take on scary just really does it for me. And having to read subtitles helps if it's a part I can't look at directly.

You should post a list of must-see asian horror!
Rana: a must-see list, I'll have to work on that. I need to see more films and look up the schlocky ones I watched before there were blogs. I recommend seeing this one twice, which is what I'll do when my copy arrives.

Bluewyvern: Nasty spammer gone. How did he get through this commenting system? My brimming chest of horrors...he he he...a coworker came to ask on my advice about "Hostel" today.

Prozy Indian: I got scared during the remake of the Dawn of the Dead too, which is probably what you mean. It's good if you're into the zombie genre. As a Transylvanian, I am so over vampires.

LJ: Subtitles are fun! The trick, if you're having problems, is to watch the film twice. Or watch it without reading the subtitles which is what I did with the Ring (the Japanese version). Besides all good movies merit multiple viewings. One day I'll take a film studies class. Wooo hooo!
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