Sisters on the Road (2009) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two different sisters on a journey

South Korean film “Sisters on the Road”, whose remastered version happens to be re-released in South Korean theaters in this week, engaged me more than expected. At first, it begins as a simple but intimate drama revolving around two very different family members, and then it takes a sudden unexpected plot turn during its third act. Although the movie came out in 2009, I did not know anything about it because it somehow eluded me at that time, so I was really caught off guard during my viewing, and I also appreciated how it generates some genuine poignancy among its main characters after that crucial narrative point.

At the beginning, the movie introduces us to its two main characters: Myeong-joo (Gong Hyo-jin) and Myeong-eun (Shin Min-a). As shown from a series of flashback scenes in the film, there was a time when they grew up closely together as half-sisters in their hometown in Jeju Island, but they have been estranged from each other as respectively leading each own life, and the opening scene shows how much they are different from each other in many aspects. While Myeong-joo is a single mother who has raised her little daughter along with her mother and aunt, Myeong-eun has lived in Seoul since leaving their hometown some time ago, and we see how she busily works in some company while her half-sister is diligently working at a local fish market as usual.

Both of these two half-sisters are not particularly willing to contact with each other, but then there comes a sad news. Their dear mother has died, so Myeong-eun has to come back to her hometown, and then she dutifully accompanies Myeong-joo and their aunt. Their aunt is clearly devastated a lot by the death of their mother, but she is still pleased to see Myeong-eun again, and there is a little tender moment as she and her nieces share some old memories while rummaging those old stuffs belonging to their dead mother.

One of those old items is a letter from the biological father of Myeong-eun, who suddenly left Myeong-eun’s mother not long before Myeong-eun’s birth. While still resentful about that, Myeong-eun wants to know where her biological father is, and she asks Myeong-joo to join her search for him mainly because Myeong-joo was quite close to him during that time. Myeong-joo is initially reluctant, but her aunt persuades her to do that, mainly because she thinks her nieces really need to spend some time together for bonding with each other again.

Of course, things do not go well between Myeong-joo and Myeong-eun right from the beginning. Due to Myeong-joo’s acrophobia, Myeong-eun has no choice but to travel back to the mainland by ship instead of airplane, and she also cannot help but annoyed with her half-sister’s rather thoughtless behaviors. While she does feel sad about the loss of her mother, Myeong-joo cannot resist having some fun and drink nonetheless, and that certainly exasperates her half-sister a lot.

Meanwhile, their journey turns out to be more complicated than expected. While there comes a big setback later, Myeong-eun is also pressured a lot by her company manager, who frequently demands that she should come back as soon as possible for some important project. When she and Myeong-joo finally arrive at a city where her biological father supposedly resides (This city is incidentally my hometown, by the way), Myeong-joo wants to spend more time with her half-sister instead of helping her finding him, and Myeong-eun comes to wonder whether Myeong-joo is hiding something important from her.

Of course, a moment of epiphany inevitably comes upon Myeong-eun later, and the mood naturally becomes quite melodramatic as she and her half-sister try to deal with a certain fact in their life, but the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Boo Ji-young, who would draw more attention from us with her subsequent work “Cart” (2014), does not lose its calm and thoughtful focus on story and characters. For example, a subplot involved with Myeong-joo’s daughter feels rather redundant at first, but it comes to resonate with the main plot more than expected, and there is a little touching moment when Myeong-joo’s daughter comes to spend some quality time with a certain supporting figure in the story thanks her great aunt.

Above all, the movie is held together well by the solid performances from its two wonderful lead actresses, who have steadily advanced for years since the film came out. While Shin Min-a ably holds the ground as the soul of the movie, Gong Hyo-jin brings some humor and spirit to the film as its heart, and they are effortless as their contrasting characters pull and push each other throughout the story. In case of several other main cast members, Chu Kwi-jung, Kim Sang-hyeon, Moon Jae-won, and Bea Eun-jin are well-cast in their respective supporting roles, and Chu Kwi-jung and Kim Sang-hyeon are especially terrific as two different women who raised Myeong-joo and Myeong-eun with sincere care and love.

Although more than 10 years have passed since its original theatrical release, “Sisters on the Road” still feels fresh as a female drama film which handles its relevant main subjects with enough sensitivity and thoughtfulness. It surely reminds me that good movies usually do not get old regardless of how much time passes, and I am glad that this little gem comes to get another chance to approach to audiences out there.

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