“A Tale of Two Sisters” in the Feminist Discourse

Through the explanation of the uncanny characteristic of A Tale of Two Sisters, it is also important to show its feminist implications. It is clear that the correlation between uncanny narratives and feminist narratives is very strong primarily because of protesting orientation of both. Thus, for example, the main intention of the feminist discourse is to oppose the patriarchal dominance that shares the subjugated, oppressed, and exploited image of a woman as a norm. When the literary works engaged in the patriarchal discourse attempt to provide dependent and weak female characters for the sake of patriarchal propaganda, the feminist literature operates with the opposite images of females. Besides, as long as the patriarchal dominance makes most of the women similar to those literary images they provide, the patriarchal discourse correlates with realist literature oriented on the description of everyday society. In contrast, as long as the aim of the feminist literature is to oppose the current state of things, the best way is to use the uncanny forms of narratives. It is clear through the statement of Cagle concerning the patriarchal literature. According to Cagle, in this form of literature women just operate with their personal opinions when men provide the truth based on their authority, power, and gender dominance. It is important that most of the feminist narratives show the same situation, but the difference is that the patriarchal texts demonstrate it as a norm, when the feminist discourse problematizes this issue. In this way, it is obvious that most of the feminist narratives are inevitably uncanny because they appeal to the hidden and disregarded aspects of the social reality.

In fact, the uncanny character of A Tale of Two Sisters is underlined by Cagle when he identifies this narrative as the synthesis of melodrama and gothic claiming that the roots of both rest in the Victorian age. The gothic tradition based on the unfamiliar interpretation of the everyday reality provides one of the best examples of the positions demonstrated by the filmmaker. Thus, the opposition of the feminist and patriarchal discourses is clear from the very beginning of the film when the doctor commands the main character Su-mi to tell about her psychical disease. The detail that “Su-mi suffers from a post-traumatic dissociative identity disorder” makes watchers realize that the opposition between the doctor and the female patient embodies the opposition between the irrational world of females and the dominant world of males. When Choi writes about the invention of a new narrative based on “the sonyeo sensibility” or “the adolescent female sensibility,” the main idea of this author is the legitimization of the literary representation of such themes as the specifics of the young females’ perception of the patriarchal world. Thus, the feminist interpretation of the film is obvious because the sensible female opposes to the ‘normal’ doctor who tries to correct her. The same function plays the father who also embodies patriarchal culture, but in the context of the house, where the doctor has much more influential social position. Both father and doctor see the situation of Su-mi from outside, they do not understand the problematics of her perception of reality. In contrast, the three already mentioned characters having nightmare are females (as well as the nightmare herself). In this way, there is no doubt that the opposition between the female and the male positions toward the world constitutes real conflict of the film hidden under the conflict between Su-mi’s female subpersonalities.

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To explain the specifically feminist features of the narrative, it is important to compare the narrative with the traditional Korean medieval tale on which the film is based. Thus, as Caroline Dupuy underlines, Kim Jee-woon uses a traditional Korean tale as a main tenet of his plot but, at the same time, he interprets it through today’s prism actual in the context of current social transformations. The general plot line of the tale is the opposition between two sisters and their stepmother who kills them in order to spend no money on their marriages instead of providing money to the stepmother’s own sons. Thus, after the young females are dead, their spirits start to kill all the magistrates of their village until the new major meets the spirits and restitutes the justice through the investigation and punishment for the stepmother and her elder son who also participates in the crime. The problem is clear: one woman kills others in order to protect the welfare of her sons, but the dead females appeal to the magistrate, who embodies the patriarchal power, and get his support. The patriarchal interpretation of this traditional Korean tale is obvious.

Kim Jee-woon uses the same plot tenets, but interprets them in the feminist orientation. In this way, he achieves a feminist narrative without the ‘obvious’ vicious nature of the stepmother, the need of the magistrates’ support for the female spirits who cannot provide their revenge just because they are females, etc. For instance, in the film, it is the father who makes Su-mi to live in the house where her mother and sister died. In other words, he provokes progressing of her madness through her transportation to the house. In fact, the father and the doctor correlate each with another because both oppress and govern Su-mi as the representatives of the patriarchal power. Besides, at least in her imagination, Su-mi does not need any male support because the female spirit is able to provide her revenge to the cruel stepmother without any sanctions of the father, doctor, or magistrate from the traditional tale. That is the main difference from the medieval tale based on the subjugated and helpless nature of females. Kim Jee-woon in fact provides a new interpretation of the medieval story in accordance with the actual tendencies and social challenges that presuppose today’s understanding of the repeating motives.

The Audiovisual Qualities of the Film

The specifics of the director’s work on the film accomplish the analyzed details of the narrative to a great degree. Thus, the most important is to underline the special mise-en-scene as Choi does. According to the author, “A Tale of Two Sisters blends characters’ actions into the mise-en-scene, transforming them as an object within the externalized interiority”. In other words, there is no difference between the separate characters and the mise-en-scene because the latter includes and sets all the characters together in accordance with their role and place in the narrative. It is very important that “it is not the mise-en-scene that coheres around the character, but rather the characters that complete the mise-en-scene”. As a good illustration, it is possible to recall the scene where the stepmother moves in the house and, on the background, there are the walls colored differently. In fact, the scene opens with the walls without the character, and then she appears and in this way completes the mise-en-scene. The same detail is characteristic for many scenes of the film. As for the cinematography used in the film, the characters of Kim Jee-woon mostly appear from the darkness to the bright light. Two good examples of that are the scene when the girls go to the lake and the scene on the kitchen where stepmother seeks for the nightmare. In fact, in this work with the light allowing to underline the details needed, the director accompanies with the different shots (for example, he often shots only some parts of the characters’ bodies, such as the body of stepmother without her head and legs in the final scene in the hospital). The untypical images are accomplished by the use of flashbacks and parallel cutting. With the help of those devices, the filmmaker achieves the effect of some uncertainty and instability of the narrative. It is very important that the sound design serves the same aim, because through the use of the same musical tracks in case of parallel cutting (as it is made for the scene when Su-mi recalls her past in the hospital, and at the same time her stepmother meets the nightmare). In general, the sound design of the film helps the watcher to feel compassion toward the main characters to the highest degree. The film is mostly silent, and the dominant diegetic sound is the permanent heavy breathing of Su-mi that makes this character close to the watcher. It is also possible to underline one example of the use of non-diegetic sound in this film – the white noise in the episode when Su-mi’s stepmother pays attention to the location of the nightmare in the dining room. In connection with the perfect soft soundtrack, the full effect of the sound design is totally fascinating. As for the film’s editing, the prevalence of long-takes and tracking shots makes the film as ‘real’ as possible for the watcher. The use of many shots in connection with the fast pace would alienate the watcher from the processes that take place in the film’s world. Besides, it is clear that in the case of A Tale of Two Sisters the functions of sound design and film editing are the same in their orientation on the establishment of some empathy of the watcher to the general character. In this way, the full scope of the filmmaking devices provides the same effect as the film’s uncanny plot, because it also problematizes and destabilizes the everyday image of the reality, and in this way helps the watcher to reevaluate personal positions concerning different issues including those of the feminist discourse.


Through the analysis provided, it is clear that the film perfectly corresponds to the actual challenges the progressive society faces. The feminist ideology is a correct way to show the devices by which the patriarchal world exploits and oppresses females. Using a classical plot based on a medieval tale, the director achieves the effect of an actuality and closeness to the everyday problematics connected with the issues of masculine power contraposed to the feminine sensibility. The film demonstrates the conflict between two females, and the watchers realize that all the time the conflict was between the world of females and the world of males primarily represented by the characters of the father and the doctor. The oppression provided by the males provokes internal conflict within the general female character and leads her to the psychical disease. The use of supernatural elements of the narrative in connection with the audiovisual specifics of the film accomplishes the mentioned conflict and demonstrates it as illustratively as possible.

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