Sibling rivalry is fueled by paternal absence in the South Korean meller “Sisters on the Road.” Feature bow by helmer Boo Ji-young turns sisterly polarization — one very uptight, one excessively relaxed — up to the max while maintaining an affectionate view of both protags. Gay-themed finale may be too soap-operatic for Western fest auds, but this endearing HD effort has a good chance of making inroads with local auds thanks to solid distaff perfs and a bold script.
Moody, fastidious twentysomething career woman Myung-eun (Shin Min-a), based in Seoul, returns to Jeju Island and is reunited with her thirtyish half-sister Myung-ju (Kong Hyo-jin), an uneducated fishmonger, when their mother suddenly dies. Still resentful that her father disappeared before she was old enough to know him, Myung-eun enlists Myung-ju to accompany her on a search for him.
Myung-ju thinks it’s a waste of time but agrees to hit the road with her pushy sibling anyway. Whether they’re taking a ferry to the mainland, staying in dingy motels or driving around the Korean peninsula, odd-couple dynamics play out with the boozy and flirty Myung-ju consistently rubbing the straight-laced Myung-eun the wrong way.
Narrative uses a flashback structure to fill in the blanks on the sources of Myung-eun’s childhood frustrations, and provide the first clue to the pic’s rather audacious resolution. Western auds will be quicker on the uptake than Myung-eun, but overall, her final connecting of the dots makes for an awkwardly realized denouement, which might have played more convincingly on the page than it does onscreen.
Despite scripting issues, the one-on-one scenes between the two sisters have a familial authenticity and allow both leads to flaunt their thesping chops. Kong (also in Pusan fest entry “Crush and Blush”) is particularly impressive in a lively role that also allows for greater emotional range than that of her onscreen sister.
Boo Ji-young’s helming is generally confident, with a functional simplicity. Unfortunately, a subplot featuring Myung-ju’s own daughter is initially confusing, as these scenes appear too similar to Myung-eun’s childhood flashbacks. HD lensing varies in quality, but other tech credits are solid. At times, pic looks flawless in a good 35mm transfer, but scenes employing warm light sources reveal HD technical limitations and create fuzzy images. Other tech credits are solid.