(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- There cannot be a halfway critique for this peculiar movie: you will either like it, or hate it.
At first, "Sisters on the Road (Jigeum idaeroga joayo)" puts itself forward as a melodrama of self-discovery as two half-sisters embark on a journey in search of the younger sibling's absentee father after the sudden death of their mother.
What awaits them and what audiences won't be prepared for, however, is an astonishing ending that will leave viewers pondering long after the credits roll.
For perfectionist Myeong-eun, played by Shin Min-ah, family has always been a "ball-and-chain." From her headstrong mother and talkative half-sister to soft-spoken, odd, aunt, family has been a source of humiliation that she has grown to hate. Not having a father didn't help.
Traveling back to her hometown on Jeju Island for her mother's funeral, Myeong-eun musters up the courage to put her longstanding plan into action: visit her long lost father and give him a piece of her mind.
Myeong-ju, played by Gong Hyo-iin, accompanies her neurotic little sister on the journey. A quirky, ne'er-do-well fishmonger and a single mom, she soon confronts a dilemma of whether to tell Myeong-eun a family secret that has kept hidden for decades.
Directed by Bu Ji-young, the low-key indie film, funded by the Korea Film Council, debuted at the Pusan International Film Festival last year, drawing very mixed reviews.
"I wanted to create a special story about an all women family," the Ehwa Womans University graduate told audiences at the movie's premiere Monday. "I hope the movie will make you think about how the essence of what you've been searching for all your life may actually have been right next to you all along."
Putting aside the reviews, the performances by these two versatile actresses are a sheer delight. Both still in their 20s, Gong and Shin manage to create a formidable vehicle for delivering the somewhat abstruse subject of the film to viewers.
True to her reputation as an actress who can "pull off the quirkiest roles," Gong does a superb job as the boisterous yet warmhearted elder sister who has learned life doesn't always turn out the way she planned.
Shin, whose attractive looks seem out-of-place in this kind of low-key setting, also shines as the somewhat sullen and overly busy businesswoman whose subdued performance as a recently bereft daughter is nothing short of amazing.
Another pith of the film is the real-life bond between the two actresses who have been close friends since teenagers.
"I just thought it would be fun to do a movie with Min-ah," Gong said, while Shin described the shooting as a "fun journey with a buddy."
Working -- at least up until the secret is revealed -- within familiar melodramatic conventions, "Sisters" is a great woman's story in terms of the sheer quality of emotions that elevate into a unique and poignant cinematic experience.
"Sometimes, Myeong-eun, you just have to know when to let go," the elder sister tells her sibling who falls into a fitful sleep after mourning about her dysfunctional family. "Mom did that, I did that. You must do that and so will my daughter."
Sandwiched between mega budget films such as "My Girlfriend is an Agent," "Insa-dong Scandal," and "Thirst," all lined up for releases this month, "Sisters" may have a hard time earning commercial success. On the bright side, domestic indie films have been gaining faithful fans in recent months with the success of "Old Partner," "Daytime Drinking" and "Breathless."
The film, with a running-time of 96 minutes, will open in local theaters on April 23.
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