South Korean Horror- An Autoethnographic perspective (Part One)

If you read my last blog post about autoethnography, you’ll be aware that I had the intention of using J-Horror as the topic for my autoethnographic research. However, as I was browsing the research done by previous Digital Asia students, I noticed that J-Horror had been covered extensively, which led me to consider other possible topics. Although I have been exposed to South Korean horror,  through films such as the excellent Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeun, 2016) and The Wailing (dir. Hong-jin Na, 2016), I am much less knowledgable on South Korean horror than I am on J-Horror, which therefore influenced me into changing research topics. So, in forming this autoethnographic research, I decided to watch the psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters (dir. Jee-woon Kim, 2003). My autoethnographic response to the film will be split in two parts:

This week’s post will describe, in detail, my personal experience when watching the film. Next week’s post will be an analysis of my experience and provide some background information on the film. 

How I felt watching the film:

Although I did eventually manage to actually settle properly and concentrate on the film, I initially spent a large amount of time playing ‘Football Manager’ on my phone and pausing the film every 5 minutes for various reasons (mostly internet surfing). Furthermore, since I was watching the film through SBS On Demand, I had to deal with several ad breaks, which managed to break the flow of the film (although I will concede that since the streaming service is free, advertising is necessary for it to keep running).

The first thing to say about my experience watching this film is that I found it to be incredibly scary, both viscerally and psychologically. In fact, there were a few times where I had to distract myself with games on my phone, just to help cope with the film’s intensity.

A Tale of Two Sisters

In terms of the visceral horror, which has more to do with the technical aspects, I found the sound design to be particularly frightening. The creaking of the wooden doors and the scratching of the walls proved to be incredibly effective in drawing a physical reaction from me. I’ll admit, I jumped a few times, and while I usually hate that tactic, the film used it in a clever and restrained way. The techniques used reminded me enormously of those used in J-Horror films such as Ringu (1998), which deal much more with supernatural horror, as opposed to the psychological.

a-tale-of-two-sisters

The psychological aspect of the film, however, was far scarier and dealt with ideas that aren’t often addressed in Western cinema. The main aspect, which I refer to, is the fear of non-nuclear family. A large part of the plot revolves around the two titular sisters’ deeply unstable relationship with their step-mother. I cannot recall the last time I saw a film which explored non-nuclear family life in such a manner. Personally, I found myself relating with the two sisters, as the step-mother was indeed terrifying. Every look that the step-mother gave, particularly to the sisters, was sinister and nothing she did indicated a genuine attempt to form a bond with them. I often found myself shocked at the step-mother’s actions and even more so at the father’s reluctance to react on said actions. It’s only in the film’s final revelations, that I then understood the what I had seen (more on that next week). However, I was undeniably shaken by the film’s unique exploration of family relationships through a horror-sensibility.

 

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