This past Monday, a group of journalists were flown (or driven, since half of them lived there) into Vancouver, Canada to visit the set of Tom and Charlie Guard's new creepfest A Tale of Two Sisters. The film is based on a 2003 Korean psychological horror film from Ji-woon Kim entitled Janghwa, Hongryeon. The plot, which is currently being translated for American audiences, revolves around two sisters (Arielle Kebbel and Elizabeth Banks) who return home after a stint in a mental institution. Still recovering from the death of their mother, the girls must now live with their father (David Strathairn) and his fiance (Elizabeth Banks), a misunderstood nurse who has long worked for the family.
During the trip we were watertaxied out to Bowen Island, just off the coast of Thunderbird Marina, to check out the main location for the film: A beautiful Victorian-style house that had been specially retrofitted for the project by production designer Andrew Menzies (3:10 to Yuma). While on the island, we took a tour of the home and interviewed the cast and crew of A Tale of Two Sisters. We were initially greeted by producer Walter Parks, who has worked on such films as The Ring, Catch Me if You Can, and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
He explained the conception of his latest remake, "I got a phone call from Mark, and he told me the basic premise of the movie. That it was a fairytale about two girls. The best movies have simple, organic myths underneath them. And this is the case and point. It is a stepmother story. It also has a connection to Hamlet. It's about a dead parent coming back and saying, 'Avenge my death!'
"The bones of the story were fascinating to us. Just based on the story, we said, 'Yes. Let's buy this thing.' It turned out to be a very costly purchase. This was when the Asian horror cycle was at its peak in Hollywood. Everyone was trying to scramble to get these. I think the Korean movie is a work of genius, but I still don't understand it after repeated viewings. I'm not so sure we would have jumped at it had we seen it first. But there was something about the concept that was so appealing. We went ahead and acquired it, and we worked for a very long time on the screenplay. It is a very, very difficult screenplay, because there are multiple stories going on that the audience isn't necessarily aware of."
The Guard Brothers told us about their approach to directing the remake, "We are very influenced by Asian terror. But we see it through our own sensibilities. We don't feel like we are moving away from that (aesthetic) too much. It is very implied. A lot of it is in the face of the characters, and the anticipation of things. We are really into that. We are hoping that there is a bridge between a Western sensibility and an Asian one. Our appreciation of Asian cinema comes from the fact that it is much freer, and has fewer constraints than Western cinema, which is much more structured and pointed. We are trying to harness the energy of the story as a way to achieve this terror."
Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), who plays one of the two sisters, told us a bit about her character, "We are not trying to make the same film again. We have taken a lot of elements from the original film. It was really difficult for me, because I only found out that I was playing Anna really close to the start date. I auditioned originally for Alex. Really close to filming, they decided that they wanted me to play Anna instead. It was a rush. I had to go from this one character that is a badass, and a lot happier in a way, to this other character that is very much still a child and quite screwed up. There are a lot of scenes where its just normal sisterly exchanges. Then there are a lot of scenes where I just need to be left alone, really. It's pretty insane. I said to the directors the other day, and I wasn't doing this intentionally, but I had developed this voice in my head pretty much telling me that I am crazy. Which is really, really strange. But it's this natural thing with Anna that I have developed. Whenever I am talking, even if I am just talking normally with Arielle, I hear this voice."
The film is shaping up to be something quit special in the horror genre. Stay tuned for a full set report and complete interviews with the film's stars David Strathairn, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Browning, and Arielle Kebbel, as well as producer Walter Parkes, directors Tom and Charlie Guard, and production designer Andrew Menzies.
A Tale of Two Sisters will be released by Paramount/DreamWorks in 2008.