Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Tale of Two Sisters, or: I Saw Something Nasty in the Wardrobe

We could pretend this month is about exploring a lot of different film genres…and it still could be. However, since there are so many excellent Korean horror films (and television) in the world, it seems a shame not to highlight one or two on the Collab. As with so many other months of this year, horror seems to be the only thing that makes sense at the moment.

The Film:

A Tale of Two Sisters

The Premise:

Though happily reunited, sisters returning to their family home must contend with their stepmother’s schemes and the feeling that something supernatural is roaming the halls at night…

The Ramble:

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital for murky reasons, young Su-mi is happy to be reunited with her sister Su-yeon in the family’s beautiful but extremely Gothic estate in the country. Even if the cost of the girls’ return home is time spent with their stepmother, the icy Eun-joo.

Su-mi, a teenager in a dress and bucket hat, lies on the edge of a short pier in a pond, feet dangling in the water. Her sister Su-yeon sits on the edge of the pier, looking up towards the sun.

Though Su-yeon is transparently terrified of their stepmother, Su-mi is watching out for her timid sister, calling out all kinds of problematic gaslight behavior. Eun-joo herself seems rather troubled as she is constantly taking medication and feeling like an outsider in the home she shares with the girls’ father Moo-hyeon.

The sisters aren’t home for long at all before creepy happenings begin to unfold. Su-yeon is terrified when she notices a presence in her room at night that could be her stepmother or a ghostly figure. While Su-mi comforts her and promises to look out for her little sister, both siblings are fairly on edge.

Su-mi lies in her bed with arms wrapped around Su-yeon, comforting her little sister.

A major source of tension in the household is Eun-joo’s role as caretaker for the girls’ mother when she was terminally ill; during her time with the family, Eun-joo began having an affair with Moo-hyeon. Seeing their stepmother’s face everywhere in old photos, the girls tear her image away and blot out her face with ink.

A seated Eun-joo, a woman wearing a high-collared shirt and a neat bob, looks tensely across the table, holding a teapot mid-pour. She is making eye contact with Su-mi, who stands looking down angrily at the woman.

After finding bruises on Su-yeon’s arms, Su-mi angrily confronts their stepmother. The two get into a fight, escalated by the gruesome murder of Eun-joo’s pet bird. Eun-joo goes so far as to lock Su-yeon in a wardrobe until she receives a satisfactory apology, and things get cranked up to 11 fairly quickly from there. Shocking revelation follows shocking revelation, and you know the battle of wills between Eun-joo and Su-mi can only end with a gruesome outcome.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m never going to regret watching a film that uses the gorgeous but empty manor house as a focal point, drawing attention to literal and figurative haunted family dynamics. The beautiful vintage feel of the house is perfect for the disturbing dark fairy tale we’re told, from the wicked stepmother to mysterious doors and drawers that shouldn’t be opened. Beyond the characters themselves, the house has secrets, and they work to create an ominous tone in the film.

That being said, there are some pacing issues, and the last quarter or so of the film is incredibly confusing. In this section of the story, the filmmakers seem more concerned with creating twist after twist to make the finale extremely dramatic. I don’t love this technique, and rather than a satisfying revelation, the film’s conclusion is a bit of a letdown as there’s too much going on.

Visually, though, I love this film and its commitment to telling a dark, Gothic ghost story where the mere mortals are significantly scarier than anything else that may lurk in the darkness.

Would my blog wife take some charming family photos with this one or lock it in a wardrobe? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Office, or: Live to Work, Work to Die

May May-hem continues!  Which for our purposes seems to mean gory films about murder with at least some level of social commentary.  This week we’ve jumped from Japan to Korea.

The Film:

Office (Opiseu)

The Premise:

Work.  It’s bad enough on a normal day, let alone on a day when a killer may be living in the office walls.

The Ramble:

We really hit the ground running when Mr. Kim–reliable employee, family man–returns home from work in Seoul one evening and proceeds to bludgeon his family to death with a hammer.

A man looms next to a family portrait of 4 smiling people.
In our family portrait, we look pretty happy…

Having disappeared without a trace, the police are determined to find Kim, as well as unravel why exactly the fuck a seemingly serene man would murder his family in such a disturbing manner.

The police detective, Jong-hoon, speaks with everyone on Kim’s team except for Mi-Rae, a lowly intern.  Though her supervisor tries to deter the detective and even cautions Mi-Rae against saying anything, Jong-hoon does sit down for a chat.  Though many of his colleagues looked down on Kim, he was always kind to Mi-Rae.

A man drives a car while a woman sits in the passenger seat in silence.
“You’re not my dad!  You can’t tell me what to do!”

As the investigation continues, it seems possible Kim is still in the building–security cam footage shows him returning to work after the murders but never shows him leaving.  Nevertheless, the show must go on, and the company employees are expected to continue working into the early hours of morning in a building possibly occupied by a murderer.

Though Min-Rae works hard, she doesn’t seem to fit in at the company and with the other interns.  Finding a knife in Kim’s desk (which has somehow not been investigated by police?!), Min-Rae holds onto it.  Is she hiding evidence, keeping a memento, or something more sinister?

Meanwhile, the arrival of another intern sends Min-Rae into a panic.  Though she keeps a cool exterior, Min-Rae believes it’s clear the intern was hired to replace her.  And since the new intern comes from a wealthy family, speaks English, and–the salt in the wound–is a genuinely nice person, Min-Rae doesn’t like her odds.

When a secret meeting of shady business dudes is interrupted by a body falling from the ceiling, things get even more tense at work.  Several people report dreams or sightings of Kim in the building.  One of the company supervisors has a public breakdown and screams at the cops.  Afraid of the damage the scandal will cause the company, upper management wants Jong-hoon off the case.

A man in a suit is escorted away while shouting "Cops should be evaluated! You hear me?"
I mean…he does have a point.

As the bodies stack up and Min-Rae’s desperate work frenzy amps up, something has to give.  Will Min-Rae get that much desired promotion…or die trying?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love a film with a message, especially one that takes on the BS corporate culture of working yourself to death.  It’s honestly kind of hard not to feel some of the die-hard corporate characters in this film deserve what’s coming to them.  Though the evidence begins to strongly suggest Kim is living in the office building and taking out its employees one by one, management still insists everyone carry on as usual.

However, I did find this difficult to follow at times, and the ending was especially ambiguous on several counts.  It’s hard to be overly invested in the characters, as even Min-Rae remains quite guarded.  On the other hand, I found it easy to relate to her situation and really wanted all of the office fucks to stop being assholes to her.

Though it’s a slow burner, there are some genuinely chilling moments.  Kim compares his knife to a rosary in an especially creepy scene.  I would have liked some more clarity from this film, but it did succeed in being unsettling and unexpected, just the way we like on the blog collab.

Would Christa climb the corporate ladder for this one or finely slice and dice it like an insufferable coworker?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Silenced, or: Ghost Super Soldiers

October in blogland at last!  You already know this month’s theme.  We’re into hauntings, unexplained disturbances, and creepiness in general, aka Paranormal Blogtivity (admittedly a title that needs work).

The Film:

The Silenced

The Premise:

Disappearances and creepy goings-on plague a Korean girls’ school conveniently in the middle of nowhere.

The Uncondensed Version:

Bit of background:  it’s Japanese-occupied Korea, just before the outbreak of WWII.  As it goes with empires, everyone wants to go to Japan since it can provide a better education and more opportunities for young people.  This is especially true for the girls in this film, who are competing for one of two coveted spots to go to Tokyo for school.

Shizuko is a transfer student to a school that is also a sanitorium(?) in the Korean countryside that seems to specialize in embroidery and vaulting.  Seriously, they are in a traditional classroom once in this entire movie.  Though Shizuko is very ill, she starts to get better with the help of the headmistress and some very experimental treatments.  She also makes a friend, Yeon-deok, and develops romantic feelings for her.

a girl in an austere school uniform embroiders a cherry blossom design
You know what they say about girls who know their way around embroidery cherry blossoms… (Actually, I have no idea what that even means)

Meanwhile, all kinds of creepy shit keeps happening.  There are events that seem to be tied to a ghost or some other supernatural presence—girls choking, seemingly victims of possession, and becoming very violent.  Petty high school things also happen as one girl in particular seems to have it in for Shizuko and does crazy shit like leave a dying bird in her locker and spreading rumors that she has TB.  In part, they’re uncomfortable because a girl named Shizuko disappeared before this new girl with the same name arrived.  Spooky, eh?  Sort of?

a teen girl in a school uniform looks in horror at her blood-covered hands
Mandatory staring at hands in horror scene.

As Shizuko recovers, she becomes inhumanely strong, which is bad news for the girls bullying her.  You’d better believe she’ll get her Carrie moment.  What kind of medical experimentation is really going on with these girls?  And what’s up with the nearby Japanese army base?  Super sketchy shit, guys.  Super.  Sketchy.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Really brief plot summary reflects my inability to follow this very easily.  The chronology is confusing as fuck, and I never quite knew what the intent of this film is.  It begins as a ghost story, but shifts rather abruptly to a story about medical experimentation.  Make up your goddamn mind—is this a ghost story?  Forbidden schoolgirl romance?  Conspiracy?  Sociopolitical commentary?  Please pick one or two themes and develop them further.

This had a lot of promise at the beginning, and there were elements that were a bit like Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language films.  There’s even a really beautiful but despicable character who you are just waiting to see die violently.

a woman sits in a dimly lit office, a teapot on her desk

The problem is that there’s no emotional resonance, which is a pretty terrible crime for a film that deals thematically with coming of age, first love, abuse, and the devastation of war.  I can’t say any of the characters felt especially three-dimensional or interesting.

I’m not crazy about revenge films, but this one may have been better off with that focus as the last 10 mins were so fucking badass.

Not a terrible film, but somewhat aimless and confusing.

Did Christa think this one made a miraculous discovery or would she rather it simply disappeared?  Find out by reading her review here!