by Evan J Peterson & Heather Marie Bartels
SHRIEK has moved to Naked City Brewery and Taphouse in Greenwood! Scarecrow Video continues to be a sponsor, providing us DVD usage and blog space. We will still have occasional events at Scarecrow, including our October 2nd meet up for Slumber Party Massacre, directed by Amy Holden Jones, for our Women Horror Directors festival!
This month, we continue our Asian Horror series with A Tale of Two Sisters. Tickets here.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Writer: Kim Jee-woon
Major actors: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-young, Yum Jung-ah
Gore: almost none
Body Count: no spoilers
Major Protagonists: Female
Villain/Antagonist: no spoilers
Does it pass the Bechdel-Wallace test? Oh yes
I’ve asked Heather to take the lead this month. Her knowledge of Asian horror is far superior to mine, and so I defer to her. Nonetheless, here are some things to know about A Tale of Two Sisters, good context for viewing the film:
Based on the Korean folktale “Rose Flower and Red Lotus” (the names of the sisters), we see immediate (if superficial) parallels to familiar European fairy tales such as “Snow White and Rose Red.” However, the tension between the girls and their antagonistic stepmother is a deeper parallel. Many scholars have tracked the patterns within global myths and folktales; it’s no surprise to me that Korea seems to have spontaneously produced tropes with which we’re familiar from Grimm and Disney.
Mental illness is central to the story. Much like Western horror films and thrillers, mental illness is a convenient way to menace a protagonist (especially a female “hysteric”) and a way to explain the actions of a villain. This is an important connection to Western horror. Did we teach by example, leading Korean filmmakers to do this? I won’t reveal any more.
According to Wikipedia (I know, I know…), this folktale has been adapted to film many times. I’m not sure how many of those are horror adaptations. While the original tale is horrifying in its child abuse and gore, the tone of it doesn’t match a horror story in the Western sense. But there’s a dead, skinned rat that’s made to look like a miscarried fetus. That’s pretty extreme. Enjoy!
Unfortunately, this week’s film is a doozy of a mystery so, in order to not spoil the fun, I will have to be more conceptual and leading in this blog entry than usual.
We wanted to screen Ringu and A Tale of Two Sisters in relation to each other for many reasons. Comparing a famous Japanese horror film and a famous South Korean horror film will allow us to broach some interesting topics in our discussion after the film, such as:
* What are the similarities between Japanese and South Korean horror?
* What are some differences?
* Is it fair to group these two nationalities’ films into one genre, or should they be considered separately?
* What are your thoughts on each film’s “reveal” at the end?
In last week’s blog, we included an excerpt from my thesis on Ring Virus, South Korea’s film version of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring. Here are some additional excerpts that we can use in relation to A Tale of Two Sisters after we have viewed the film:
On South Korean fears:
South Korea has a unique relationship with the concept of “otherness.” In Robert L. Cagle’s essay “The Good, the Bad, and the South Korean,” he quotes C. Fred Alford’s explanation of this relationship:
“What if it is not otherness that one most fears? What if what one fears is the quality of being the other, alienated, isolated, and alone, bereft of attention? Then evil may become unspeakable, too close to home. The experience of evil cannot be projected onto an other because it is the very experience of otherness that is so terrifying.”
South Koreans are very uncomfortable with the Western tropes of good and evil because they create an “us and them” dynamic. While Americans are afraid of things unlike them, South Koreans are afraid of becoming the subject on the other side of this imaginary line.
That’s some very important context, especially as we try to look at these horror films from the perspectives of the women in front of and behind the camera.
On the “final girl”:
American horror films have long depended on women to be their victims, fighters and ultimate victors. In her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol Clover calls this woman the “final girl.” The “final girl” has been utilized in countless American films but has not specifically crossed into international cinema until more recently. Hideo Nakata’s team made the choice to alter Ring’s set of characters to those that we see in Ringu and then Verbinski’s The Ring followed in his steps. The filmmakers of Kim Dong-bin’s The Ring Virus also transformed [the lead] Asakawa into a woman for some reason. It is possible that they were also under the influence of Japan’s Ringu, even though it hadn’t been release in South Korea yet. No matter the reason for the protagonist’s change in gender, the result implied is that Japan, South Korea and America are all preferring and relating to women as those who are tormented and triumph in horror films.
Join us this Sunday, Sept. 25 at Naked City Brewery and Taphouse for A Tale of Two Sisters, then meet us in October for our Women Horror Directors series!
Evan J. Peterson (evanjpeterson.com) is a college professor, author, and journalist. He is a Clarion West alum, and he received his MFA from Florida State University. His writing has been featured in The Stranger, Weird Tales, Queers Destroy Horror, and The Rumpus. His books include The Midnight Channel, Skin Job, and Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City 5. He lives in Seattle with his werewolf, Dorian Greyhound.
Heather Marie Bartels is the Managing Director of the Rainier Independent Film Festival, graduate from the University of Washington Cinema Studies department, and host of the film and feminism podcast “Turn Up The Ladybro.” She spends most of her spare time introducing the uninitiated to the wonders of horror and finding the best ramen in town.