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[NYAFF ’21] ‘Three Sisters’ review: Family drama buoyed by performances and production

Great story about everyday life.

Three Sisters is a South Korean movie that is a showcase for its three leads. The movie is about a trio of siblings and their differing lives. Hee-sook is the oldest and has a family that does not appreciate her. Middle sister Mi-yeon is married to a university professor and lives a very comfortable life. Youngest sister Mi-ok is a playwright with a gentle husband and son. 

The early parts of the movie focus on the differences between the three sisters. These early moments also seem to be there to show that the women are more than just caricatures. It is a good idea as Mi-ok in particular seems like she is going to be a little too one dimensional. The film also runs the risk of being melodramatic. Thankfully, Three Sisters is able to avoid this problem. 

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This is possible thanks to some expertly injected moments of comedy. The film deals with a number of serious topics, but it never forgets to find time to laugh. This adds a more human quality to Three Sisters. It is about more than being dealt hardships; it is about dealing with them. The films makes things more relatable and by extension easier to watch.

Three Sisters is a drama, first and foremost. Each woman is dealing with their own problems. Things can get predictable at times – unfaithful husbands and disobedient children are examples – but it always remains interesting. There is also a subplot involving the cycle of abuse which is well done. Again, the film walks to the edge of being derivative before it pulls back and captures the audience.

[NYAFF '21] 'Three Sisters' review: Family drama buoyed by performances and production

The camerawork for the movie does some neat things. Though it is subtle, each sister is shot in a slightly different light. This is a nice bit of work as it not only highlights different characters, but it also helps emotions and even settings stand out. A less inspired choice is the use of black and white during flashbacks. This does not look bad (Three Sisters is a consistently attractive film) but it does come off as low rent. This is especially surprising since everything else is done with such care. In general, the flashbacks do not blend well with the rest of the story.

There is nothing revolutionary about Three Sisters. It is a family drama that is focused on a set of siblings and the troubles they are facing. The movie still works due to great performances and some deft direction. It is also proof that some of the best stories being told about everyday lives.

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online

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