The nightmarish expectations of growing up in a strict Asian household gets a dark and twisted treatment in ‘Requiem For Herstory’, a story about a young girl growing up in an oppressive household.
Yuri is nurtured in a lavish but severe and deprived home. Her mum indulges in a taxidermied pet, afternoon absinthe chasers, wild eyelashes, and the idea that Yuri should be a performance violinist.
She resists, stages a mild rebellion, but ultimately, becomes who her mother wants her to be.
We speak to the Korean-born filmmaker Minji Kang about this shrill, dark psychological thriller, ‘Requiem for Herstory’.
The film is psychologically intense and intriguing. Was it was inspired by a personal encounter or episode in your life or by true events?
Minji: I’ve been playing the violin since I was five years old. I learned to read music before I know how to read Korean. Yes, I’ve had a couple of scary teachers who yelled a lot, and I don’t recommend teaching anything that way- as it takes all the fun out of learning.
But no, this story was not inspired by an event.
It actually evolved from a dream I had a couple of years ago. In this dream I saw a large pin stuck in my palm. I desperately tried to take the pin out, but the more I struggled, the larger the hole in my palm became.
This went out for what seemed like hours. I felt I was slowly losing myself and that I would disappear at any moment.
It was horrifying. This inspired the scene in the film where Yuri has pins stuck in her palms. Whenever I recall that nightmare, it still gives me chills. I guess that’s where the dreamy, surreal and distorted visual style came from.
Some of these scenes resonate with Asian families, with similar pressures and instruments, even. If there was one thing the audience should take away from the film, what would you say it would be?
Minji: I think everyone, even those who don’t come from a strict family can hopefully understand the situation and be able to put themselves in these character’s shoes.
The setting of “Requiem for Herstory” is the oppressive household. But I believe this story could take place in many other situations in society. It’s really about what oppressors do to challengers. And you can find that anywhere where there are power dynamics. We’ve surely all been an oppressor or a challenger or maybe both. We all want to be good people, but sometimes the situation drags us into negative directions.
I believe all art is a proposition of reality. Art opens us up to new and exciting conversations. It elicits emotions and questions.
I don’t have any particular things I want the audience to take away. Everyone has their unique life path. While viewing “Requiem for Herstory,” I encourage the viewer to attach to whatever rings most loudly to them. That’s what they should really listen to — certainly not my words.
Some phrases in the “made-up” language sounded like English! How did the idea of using a potpurri language come about?
Minji: The leitmotif of this film is the world of oppression — an anemic dysphoria.
We wanted the characters to speak something unknown, an obscure language, emphasising their closed world. They have lived this way for a long time — perhaps centuries, in an immortal dark fairy world. This thought of surrealism made the actors and I wonder what would be the best language to interpret what’s written on the script.
Kathryn Kim, who played the mother’s character, came up with a brilliant idea to mix up the existing languages along with random expressions of human nature. Creating a nightmarish dream.
To show these characters archetypes, it was important for them to have a combination of Eastern and West words. As a general thought, I’ve always believed language isn’t as important as seeing and the emotion behind the words.
‘Requiem for Herstory’ travelled to film festivals at New York and Toronto. It was awarded a Honorarable Mention at the Rochester International Film festival. It was directed by Minji, with cinematography by Tim Gill, original music by Peggy Johnson, Robert Scott Thompson, starring Ashley Zhang, Kathryn Kim and Vince Canlas.