Korea has fairly rich folklore with a variety of stories that were spread during the Joseon period. Most famous among Korean folklore are mystical stories related to murders. In this article, I will cover the horrifying tale that has haunted Koreans for generations. This is the legend of two sisters.
The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon
“Many years ago, a woman gave birth to two daughters but she died a few years later due to illness. After that, the father of the daughters marries for the second time. The new wife hated the girls and after the birth of three sons began to openly abuse them. She accused the eldest daughter of indecent behavior. After which, she forced her son to push the eldest girl into the pond. She drowned. The younger sister could not survive without her sister. And so, she drowned herself in that same pond shortly after.
According to legend, every new magistrate of the city tried to investigate the death. But, instead of solving the case, they died. Except for one magistrate who was not afraid of the ghosts of two daughters. He helped restore justice. He posthumously dropped charges against the daughters and sentenced the stepmother to death.
The father was acquitted, and he got married for the third time. In the third marriage, twins were born. It is believed that his deceased daughters were reborn into the bodies of two twins.” (Seelotus)
The movie “A Tale of Two Sisters”
Based on the legend, several movies were made in the 20th and 21st centuries. The most successful one is the 2003 movie A Tale of Two Sisters, “which became the highest-grossing Korean horror film in the country”. (Kentnewsnet) The basis of the plot is very similar to the legend of Janghwa and Hongryeon. Similarly, after the wife’s death, the father marries another woman who is unable to establish a connection with his daughters. Unlike the legend, in the film, she has no sons, but this does not reduce the confrontation of the stepmother with the stepdaughters.
The director perfectly conveyed the conflicted atmosphere in the family. The stepmother’s character is annoying, even to the viewer. She is very hectic, talks a lot, and quickly, interferes with the girls’ personal space. Sometimes the conflicts were so serious that they turned into a fight.
Mysticism has also been added to the storyline. Shots of an empty house, silence, and an old interior add tension. Strange events begin to occur that cannot be explained, which scares the residents. For example, someone running around the house, ghosts, and nightmares.
The film may seem very strange, and incomprehensible, and some scenes are even delusional. But, the twist at the end of the film completely changes everything, all the scenes shown before become clear. Thanks to the flashbacks, you can find explanations for all the strange things that happened, and the role of mysticism decreases. Which I believe makes the film more attractive and terrifying, because it becomes more realistic.
“A Tale of Two Sisters” Vs. American Remake “The Uninvited”
In the American film, the stepmother also has no sons, but more of the back story is revealed. For example, a scene of a husband cheating on his wife with a maid, who later became his second wife, is shown.
This explains in many ways the negative attitude of the girls to the new wife. Secondly, unlike the Korean version, in “The Uninvited” the stepmother is more shown as a positive hero because she is trying to make a contact with her husband’s daughters all the time, and looks very kind and friendly. Also, there are more victims in the American version, which adds more tragedy.
Personally speaking, I liked the American version more, as it revealed the original story more. However, I watched the American version earlier than the Korean one, perhaps it affected the impression because I knew what to expect from the film. Or, the time of the films’ releases also may have also affected my opinion. This is because the quality of filming in 2009 in America was very far ahead of Korea in 2003.
In any case, if you want to learn more about Korean folklore, I recommend reading the legend first, then watching the Korean version, and then the American one, for completeness.
If you want to learn more about Korean myths involving ghosts, Click Here for a legend that shares many commonalities with the tale of Janghwa and Hongryeon. A watery grave, an untimely end, and murder from beyond the grave.