On March 7th, the iSchool’s chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) hosted its first event with its new board members in place, a happy hour followed by the Alamo Ritz’s “Terror Tuesday” 35mm screening of Kim Jee-woon’s 2003 Korean horror movie A Tale of Two Sisters.
Happy hour conversations discussed the wide breadth of media that is included under the heading of “moving image” and focused a lot on the inclusion of video games as moving images. The main highlight of the night was A Tale of Two Sisters, based on the Joseon era Korean folk tale “Rose Flower, Red Lotus”. The film follows in the footsteps of Park Ki-hyung’s 1998 Korean horror film Whispering Corridors, which was a part of the boom in the Korean film industry following the liberalization of censorship of Korean media in the aftermath of South Korea’s military dictatorship; Whispering Corridors contained strong commentary of the authoritarianism and mass conformity found in the South Korean educational system up until that point as well as a common focus on lesbian relationships and teen suicide. Before the liberalization of censorship in South Korean media, most of the films produced were along the lines of sappy rom-coms and didn’t always address more serious subject matter.
A Tale of Two Sisters addresses female inter-personal relationships in Korean society as well as mental illness and how it is handled and viewed in Korea. The film focuses on teenager Su-mi who has been treated for shock and psychosis at a mental institution and has recently returned home. Throughout the film, Su-mi’s sister, Su-yeon, is tormented by their stepmother, Eun-joo, in a seemingly Cinderella-esque trope. **SPOILER ALERT** The story continues with Eun-joo terrorizing Su-yeon, eventually locking her in a closet. Su-mi confronts their father about Eun-joo’s treatment of Su-yeon only to be told that Su-yeon is dead. In the climax of the film, the viewer learns that Eun-joo was never at the house and that Su-mi has been suffering from dissociative identity disorder brought about by the trauma of learning that Su-yeon died after her closet fell on her as Su-mi left the house to avoid Eun-joo.**END OF SPOILER**
Overall, A Tale of Two Sisters is a movie that is kind of difficult to fully grasp at the end because of the fractured nature of the narrative, especially around the climax of the film. I largely enjoy this film because I have fond memories of watching it when I went through a “watch all the Asian horror movies” phase in my early-mid teen years; however, as I’ve gotten older and re-watched this movie in particular (which I’ve done both for fun and to write a paper) I’ve been able to view the film as a poignant statement about the treatment of mental illness in South Korea and how it is handled.
Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) at the University of Texas at Austin
AMIA at the University of Texas at Austin is a student chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). We are dedicated to the discussion and education of our members interested in moving image archiving. We aim to promote the appreciation of film history, the preservation of moving images, and access to audiovisual heritage.