Women and Victimization in Korea (Analytical Essay Example)

Analysis of A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006)

The aspect of women and victimization is correlated with inequalities and patriarchal issues in society (Hwang, 2010). Indeed, in a society, which does not rank women but which rather offers more entitlements to men, sexual assault, discrimination, and violence against women will reign. The Korean films and dramas have disclosed such an aspect through their plots and texts. Specifically, A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006) usher the audience to a world where women are disregarded and victimized. Women in the films go through injustices such as rape and murder, while their men seem to orchestrate the victimization and remain indifferent about the painful events. After comparing and analyzing both films, it is clear that Korean society and culture encourage, accept, and maintain the victimization of women.

Background Information on A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006)

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is inspired by Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon, a Joseon dynasty folktale. It is directed by Kim Jee-Woon and centered on two sisters, Su-Mi and Su-Yeon. Accompanied by their father, they return home from a psychiatric facility and immediately start experiencing horrible events. After their cold and seemingly distant stepmother announces that an uncle and his wife would arrive for dinner, the two sisters are disappointed and they retire to bed. Su-mi, the eldest sister, dreams of female ghost whose blood oozes down her legs. Soon afterwards, all the female family members receive their menstrual periods. The events that unfold the following day lead to critical revelations. Specifically, it is revealed that the stepmother nursed Su-Mi’s biological mother and thus, it is implied that the stepmother has caused the death of Su-mi’s biological mother. Such revelations occur after it turns out that Su-Mi has multiple personalities and she is able to act as her sister and step-mother (KBS World TV, 2013).

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Remarkably, the themes and plot in A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) are similar in the Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon folklore. Here, the sisters, Janghwa and Hongryeon, lose their mother at an early age. The father has to remarry, according to the societal norms. However, the stepmother is cruel, distant, and cold. She mistreats both sisters after the birth of her sons and further plans their death. Years later, the authorities sent to the town die a day after their arrival. One of the bold mayors seeks to find the truth and later summons the wicked stepmother, the girl’s father, and the son involved in the death of the two sisters. The stepmother and son are sentenced to death while the father is set free. Later, the father remarries and the wife gives birth to twins. It is implied that the two sisters come back to life after the two twins, Janghwa and Hongryeon, are born (Seth, 2010).

Arang (2006) is a film directed by Ahn Sang-Hoon (Korimovi1, 2014). It involves a veteran detective So-Young and her partner Hyun-Ki who investigate a homicide case of a girl, Min-Jeong. She was killed ten years earlier. The veteran detective has nightmares about the case and discovers that the girl had been killed by the detective’s partner, Hyun-Ki; the girl was Hyun-Ki’s first love. The partner has also committed other crimes by offering his victims cigarettes containing a gas with an ability to cause a heart attack. The drive to do this was based on the events that unfolded ten years ago when Hyun-Ki had found the girl, Min-Jeong, in a romantic moment with her lover. A group planning to rape pregnant Min-Jeong persuaded Hyun-Ki to tape the event. After the girl was raped and her lover was killed, she was buried in a salt house along with her unborn infant. So-Young acts on the revelations and confronts her partner Hyun-Ki who eventually commits suicide out of guilt. On the same day, rain washes away the salt where Min-Jeong is buried. It is revealed that So-Young has also been sexually violated and thus, she has been avenged by how the events have turned out (Korimovi1, 2014.

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Women and Victimization in the Korean Culture

Women in Korea are regularly victimized (Hwang, 2010). Indeed, the Korean culture has historically been patriarchal, where the women are disregarded while the men are entitled to different privileges, including property and the decision-making elements in society (Franklin, Franklin, Nobles, & Kercher 2011). Obedience to their husband, a good temper, and hard work are highly encouraged among young women. The girls are expected to marry at an early age and bear many children. Further, divorce is frowned upon since it is seen as an act of shaming the extended family. Whenever it cannot be avoided, the process of divorce is extremely complex. The bride’s price may be repaid, while the family ties are broken. Even more, women consider physical abuse as acceptable; they believe that women can be disciplined for their disobedience through physical abuse (Hwang, 2010).

Regrettably, victimization has continued to escalate since very little effort is given towards its elimination (Kuk, 2008). Women in such society are likely to accept their fate and suffer in silence because of the cultural expectations and the socialization process. Furthermore, they may suffer psychological illnesses. After having many children, they may be prone to various diseases. Additionally, they may not be financially empowered to seek for help since they do not own any property and they can have little or no educational background (Kuk, 2008). The legal resources may also not be available since the constitution is designed to suit patriarchal society. Moreover, there may be little social and community support for the victimized women; society expects such women to cope with the issues instead of getting help from the legal bodies or from various organizations. Indeed, the women must not violate the virtues of endurance and perseverance or even try to challenge the aspect of male supremacy. Doing so is seen as disrupting the family. Instead, they should embrace the idea of surviving regardless of the victimization that reigns in society (Kuk, 2008).

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Kim and Pettid (2011) indicated that Korean women were oppressed after the Confucianism had become a dominant religion and social ideology. The women could not access their basic rights and their talents were not recognized. The patriarchy system proposed by the religion made women accept their fate in society. Nevertheless, it is also possible that some women utilized the religion to rise intellectually and overcome social obstacles. The religion did not also single out women on the issues of morality but rather encouraged everyone in society to work towards perfection.

In the contemporary world, some elite Korean men have recognized that women have been victimized (Kuk, 2008). The push by the non-governmental organizations to respect human rights has also been effective to some extent. Nevertheless, women are still victimized since the law and the societal norms have not changed (Franklin et al., 2011). Women have also accepted their fate and they have not been active in advocating their rights.
Similarities on Aspects of Women and Victimization in A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006)
The comparison of A Tale of Two Sisters and Arang is possible using the post structuralism approach. Storey (2008) discloses that gender theory falls under such an approach in literature. Accordingly, the meaning of a text is not fixed but rather unstable. Yet, language is utilized to acquire meaning of the text. Based on these aspects, an analysis of how texts in the films are used to disclose the aspect of women and victimization is possible. Therefore, different meanings are derived from the language used in the films.

In both A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006), the directors highlight some of the issues that cause victimization in Korean society. The horrors in A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) begin after all the females in the house experience a menstruation period (KBS World TV, 2013). It points to the fact that such an aspect is considered as a taboo in society and it can even lead to horrible events. At the same time, the father to the two sisters does not seem to understand the root cause of the issues in his household. The stepmother’s actions, for instance, do not seem to bother him, but he seems to support her instead. Yet, these actions affect his daughter’s life; Su-Mi has a psychological issues resulting from the death of her mother and her father’s second marriage. As Lee, Stefani, and Park (2014) assert, such an attitude is typical in a society where women are victimized; the men seem to be indifferent about the undesirable issues that affect women.

In Arang (2006), the veteran detective and the girl whose case is under investigation have been sexually violated in the past. Regrettably, the secret have been hidden from the public (Korimovi1, 2014). Franklin et al. (2011) indicate that the issues of women victimization in the Korean culture are hardly addressed in the public forums. It explains why the detective does not speak about her rape issue or even investigate it despite the fact that she is in a position of power. It is even worrying that the man who has orchestrated the victimization of women in the film works hand in hand with the detective. Therefore, it seems that the possibility of dealing with the issue of victimization is minimal. Still, the women have accepted their fate and decided to live comfortably with their violent and abusive male partners. Even more, men in society will not be against the victimization issues (Lee, Stefani, & Park, 2014).

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In addition, Hyun-Ki in Arang (2006) accepts to tape a case of a girl being raped, and for ten years, he does not expose the matter (Korimovi1, 2014). Drakulich (2015) suggests that in patriarchal society, men will feel justified to act violently whenever women do not show signs of obedience. The girl in Arang (2006), for instance, is not expected to choose another lover (Korimovi1, 2014). She is also raped because of her inability to defend herself against the men’s physical power. More so, she is buried in a salt house to ensure that the truth is hidden from the public (Korimovi1, 2014). Such actions point to the fact that men in Korean society are able to get away with crime due to the existing cultural values. It seems that the only hope in both films is spiritual mysteries. Until the offended victims show up in other people’s dreams, the injustices in such a society will not end.

Hwang (2010) explains that the birth of Korean society is related to spiritual ideologies. The early states, for instance, were created when the shamanism religion prevailed. Here, the occurrences in the natural world were closely related with spirits. Appeasing such spirits was and still is imperative. Based on this reality, the films incorporate the element of appeasing ghosts of the people who had been mistreated in the past. The detective in Arang (2006) must act upon the dream by the victim in order to appease her. On the other hand, Su-mi in A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) must avenge the death of her mother and sister by taking different human forms.

In the Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon folklore, where A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is adapted from, the stepmother accuses Janghwa of being morally wanting (Seth, 2010). Specifically, she directs her son to place a dead skinned rat to the girl’s bed and it is implied that the girl has had a miscarriage. The father believes the stepmother and on realizing this, the girl does not know what to do and she runs towards the pod. Moreover, she is pushed by the half-brother inside the pool and she dies. At this point, it is clear that the idea of engaging in sexual behavior leads to the victimization of women in the Korean culture. It seems that a good woman must not be pregnant before marriage. Again, the father in the story seems to be unaware of his daughter’s plight. It implies that men, who will often make decisions, do not have a detailed information about the plight of women in society. Therefore, they are not able to protect them.

In both films, it is clear that women may play a big role in regards to the issues of victimization by men in Korean society. The malice in A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is orchestrated by a woman – the stepmother; not only does she play a role in the death of the sisters’ biological mother, but she also mistreats them. Accordingly, Su-mi becomes psychologically ill and plans to avenge for her pain. On the contrary, the father does not violate the daughters but rather makes a decision, just as society would expect of him. Particularly, he makes the decision to take Su-mi to the mental hospital for the second time. In the Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon folklore, the father is set free after it is disclosed that he has been unaware of the actions of the stepmother. Therefore, it is clear that women in Korean society have not only accepted the victimization issue, but they also feel it is justified to punish people through violence.

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Differences on Aspects of Women and Victimization in A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003) and Arang (2006)

To some extent, the films address the issue of women and victimization differently. Foremost, the veteran detective in Arang (2006) is an empowered woman who is able to fight for justice. Whereas she has been silent over the rape issue for a long time, she is able to act upon a dream and bring the offender to justice. Kim and Pettid (2011) suggest that some Korean women have utilized the Confucius religion to fight social injustice and attain intellectual powers. One of such women is the detective. On the contrary, Su-mi in A Tale of Two Sisters ends up in a mental facility. It means that the fight against women victimization in Korean society is yet to be won. While some women will find justice, others may end up mentally ill and unable to fight for their rights.

Clearly, the women in Arang (2006) seem to have a chance to make their own decision. The girl, for instance, has a chance to choose between different lovers (Korimovi1, 2014). The veteran justice is also able to make important decisions about the case. Her decision to confront Hyun-Ki, for instance, can be viewed as instrumental in how justice is accorded to the victims of rape and murder. On the contrary, the two sisters in A Tale of Two Sisters cannot make critical decisions. If anything, their power only lies in their ability to take a ghostly form (KBS World TV, (2013). For instance, Su-mi has multiple personalities and hence, she is able to play the role of the dead sister and the cruel stepmother. In the Janghwa Hongryeon Jeon folklore, the two sisters have justice after re-birth (Seth, 2010).

The Memoirs of Lady Hyeyong suggests that some women in society have a deep understanding of the social, political, and cultural perspectives in Korea (Haboush, 2013). Even so, the issues raised in the memoirs indicate that Korean women may play a role in the victimization by society and men. The stepmother, as the author suggests, may have engineered the execution of her brother. The father to Lady Hyeyong, on the other hand, is portrayed as an innocent person who is but a victim of circumstances. At the same time, the men in society seem to fall short of moral renewal and accordingly, they cause pain and suffering to their women (Haboush, 2013).


Clearly, Korean society and culture encourage, embrace, and maintain the victimization of women. In A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), two girls are taken through painful psychological experiences by their stepmother after the death of their biological mother. In the same way, a pregnant young girl in Arang (2006) is raped, murdered, and buried by a group of men. Analyzing the events in both films point to the fact that women in society have not only accepted victimization, but they have also resorted to it whenever they need to revenge. The men, on the other hand, seem protected by patriarchal society and culture. The Confucius religion also tends to favor the patriarchal social ideology. Nevertheless, there are some women who have been empowered by the same religion and who are able to fight the injustices. Furthermore, the victimized women who have passed away can avenge for their suffering by reappearing in the form of dreams or psychological disorders.

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