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Briefly Googling, I can find no English-language discussion that properly explains this superb, but extremely confusing movie.

It could be that this is one of those movies that are open to many interpretations/explanations, but I get the sense from all the various flashes throughout the movie that there is meant to be some single coherent explanation.

There is, moreover, a Hollywood remake (which I haven't watched), so perhaps that furnishes more clues.

Moreover, as stated on Wikipedia, the movie is inspired by a Korean folktale. But to read that folktale, it would seem that the movie was scarcely meant to be a faithful reproduction of that folktale. For example, it is not even clear which sister in the movie corresponds to which in the folktale. In the movie, it seems that the younger sister Su-yeon dies before the elder sister Su-mi. (I don't know if the latter ever dies.) In the folktale, the older sister dies first, then the younger.

I imagine there are Korean language forums that explain the movie more fully but unfortunately I do not know Korean. I hope someone here with more intimate knowledge of Korean culture/history/folklore/cinema can explain the movie here.

In particular, some burning questions I have are:

  1. Was there actually anything supernatural throughout the movie? Or was it all purely Su-mi's imagination?
  2. What exactly was the correct chronology of the family history? Why were there pictures of the mother and the stepmother together? Near the end, the mother and stepmother seem to be depicted as being together in the same house. How does all that make sense?
  3. Was the stepmother really ever a bad person? Or was it all Su-mi's imagination?
  4. How did Su-yeon actually die? Did Su-mi or someone else kill her?
  5. How did their mother actually die? Was it some terminal illness?
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Just recently warned the movie - I'll try to explain the best I can!

  1. There are ghosts in the house. This is evident when Su-mi's aunt, other than Su-mi, claims she saw a girl under the sink during her seizure (which is the ghost of Su-yeon from her green dress and the hair clip).

Also it can be assumed that the ghost later kills the actual stepmother near the end of the movie when she enter So-yeon's room.

  1. In one of the photos that Su-mi looks through, you can see that the stepmother is in a medical uniform (either a nurse or a doctor). Su-mi's mother was ill, maybe the stepmother was her nurse at home then started the affair with Su-mi's dad.

They're in the same house because the dad decided to bring the new woman around the house. He basically had no feelings, care or respect left for his sick wife. This behaviour drove Su-mi's mom to commit suicide, which also lead to Su-yeon's death.

  1. Her stepmother had an affair with a man who had a sick wife and two daughters. The mother's suicide and the dresser scene actually did occur, which means the stepmother actually heard and saw what happened and could have saved Su-yeon but ignored. So you decide how you view the stepmother! It wasn't all just Su-mi's imagination.

  2. The closet scene near the end of the movie is how Su-yeon actually dies. She sees her mom dead in the closet and struggled to free her, which causes the closet to fall over on her. Not sure how that would have actually killed her. Maybe suffocation? She was also young at the time.

  3. It sounds like you may have missed the ending? It shows how they both died. She committed suicide in Su-yeon's closet by overdosing and hanging herself.

It was definitely a thought provoking movie, and I personally really enjoyed it. Hope this helped!

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Amazes me how many people who've watched it, miss the other big issue in it. Su-mi Is also the step-mother as evidenced by the interactions by all 3 females in same scene. Admittedly it took 2 watches for me to see it but it's obvious once you know what's going on.

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    Welcome to Movies.SE! This is interesting to know, if you can provide a better explanation than "it's obvious", but that's not what OP asked. Can you answer the questions they actually did ask (and again, preferably with better explanations than "it's obvious")? Thanks! – F1Krazy Jul 14 at 11:59

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