Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Original Title: Janghwa, Hongryeon
South Korea, 2003. B.O.M. Film Productions Co., Masulpiri Films, iPictures. Screenplay by Jee-woon Kim. Cinematography by Mo-gae Lee. Produced by Jeong-wan Oh, Ki-min Oh. Music by Byung-woo Lee. Production Design by Geun-hyun Cho. Costume Design by Soo-Kyung Ok. Film Editing by Im-Pyo Ko, Hyeon-mi Lee.
The two girls of the title show up at their family home that is now occupied by their father and the woman he married after their mother died. There’s the mention of an illness that the girls have recovered from and their stepmother is so happy to have them restored, immediately making a happy fuss over their return but expressing an enthusiasm that they don’t share. Days of gloomy uncertainty pass and the younger, shyer Soo-yeon shows signs of bruises and cuts on her body, leading her bolder and more forthright sister Soo-mi to accuse the wicked stepmother of abusing her. Her father, meanwhile, keeps denying this situation and accuses Soo-mi of not facing facts, seeming uninterested in the greater drama happening in his house, which escalates with each passing day as Soo-mi suffers nightmarish visions that she then has difficulty separating from reality. As does the audience, actually, because while this creepy story, inspired by a classic Japanese folk tale, invokes themes of haunting and past traumas and eventually sorts out a good deal of its jumbled narrative in its conclusion, it spends too much of its time being deliberately obscure and delaying its explanation for the sake of vague creepiness and cool jump scares. The conclusion makes the mistake of allowing enough ambiguity be frustrating rather than mysterious; if director Jee-woon Kim wants a tale of the supernatural, he can have it, but the overwrought ending tries to have it both ways and leaves you with the feeling of having watched a diverting and well-acted but unimportant exercise in style and tone. Based on the folk tale “Janghwa Heungryeonjeon”, this was Korea’s biggest box office hit to date and was later remade in English as The Uninvited in 2009.