Lovecraft Country's Meet Me in Daegu takes a break from the main storyline to introduce a mysterious character from Tic's past, Ji-Ah. Ji-ah is a young Korean woman that Tic meets during the Korean War. And Ji-Ah is a Kumiho, a nine-tailed fox spirit that consumes the souls of men. Gabe talks about how the Kumiho represents Ji-Ah's trauma and how through certain relationships she learns to love and accept herself. Kat shares the folklore history of Kumiho, Kitsune, and Huli jing have been used to categorize women as evil. What differentiates the Kumiho from most other femme monsters is their intelligence. Also, has an ancient Kitsune been awakened?
Sources in this Episode
Media from this week's episode:
Lovecraft Country - Meet Me in Daegu (2020)
In the throes of the Korean War, nursing student Ji-ah crosses paths with a wounded Atticus, who has no recollection of their violent first encounter.
Directed by: Helen Shaver
Trauma-made Monsters in Lovecraft Country's Meet Me in Daegu
by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Season 1, Episode 6 of Lovecraft Country takes a step back from the plot, Tic, and the other’s adventures, discoveries, and nightmares. We get to learn about the past flame, Ji-ah, and her monstrous origins. Ji-ah is a young Korean woman who had been sexually abused as a child by her mother’s husband. To save Ji-ah, her mother consulted a female shaman who then invited a Kumiho, a fox spirit to inhabit her body and protect her. What we learn about this spirit is that it is essentially the Ji-ah we know and have always known, having swapped out the original girl for this monstrous spirit creature. In order to get her daughter back (the original Ji-ah), her mother tells her she needs to devour 100 souls of men. To extract these souls, Ji-ah lures men to her home with promises of sex, in the midst of the man’s passion she unleashes 9 tails (one from every orifice, yes every) and connects to the man. Then she siphons his life energy and memories before he bursts. So yes, this is horror. Kat will explain in her section what the Kumiho represents but it's no mistake that she is eating the souls of men. And during the Korean War, where American soldiers have made her town their home, abusing and murdering the very people they were supposed to protect, she should have no challenge finding bad men to remove from the world. That is until she meets Tic and learns to love herself as she is.
This episode offers us a glimpse into the complicated identity Ji-ah holds. We see her obsessed with Judy Garland and American cinema, the theatre as an escape from the instability and fear of the world around her. We see her struggle against the ideology that she cannot feel love nor be loved. She begins a friendship that at times felt like so much more, with a fellow nurse named Young-ja. Young-ja is a cool girl. She speaks informally with men and catches their attention. She keeps up with trends and she’s an activist. Ji-Ah becomes interested in Young-ja, mirroring her behaviors and style to fit in. But soon, through soft touches and shared intimate moments, the women become best friends. Young-ja tells Ji-ah, “There is nothing wrong with being different. What is wrong is them vilifying us.” In this exchange, I can easily read into it as Ji-ah struggling with her sexuality. Yes, she’s a fox-spirit monster and that's the overarching point of contention between her and her mother. But there is so much more happening here. Ji-ah is continually pressured to fit in and be what her mother tells her to be, she is wrong otherwise. The expectation of women in this society is that of respectable, obedient, and pure women. Ji-ah’s existence is in direct opposition to the proper way to be. Furthermore, Ji-Ah’s change came after abuse from her father, she had transformed for protection - her mother can no longer view her daughter as who she had been. Ji-Ah is changed now, having her innocence and autonomy stolen from her first by her stepfather, then by her mother who has cursed her only to then shut off her emotion towards her completely, and lastly, everyone else. The men in Daegu don’t care for her, they don’t understand her interest in Western Media and they find her awkward, clearly playing the part of sociable without ever truly being that. The American men stationed here see her as an exotic meal, not as an individual person but as an object, a set piece in the environment they're tasked with protecting. It isn’t until she has this experience of connection, of being seen and appreciated, told she is enough as who she is, by Young-ja that she can be loved and love in return.
Actress Jamie Chung in an interview on Datebook discussed the depth of Ji-Ah and her Kumiho, “You have this young girl who didn’t have control over her own body, was sexually assaulted, and then you have the Kumiho that takes over her body and through all of these sexual experiences, she gets control,” Chung said. “She has control when she’s seducing these men and taking their souls. It’s rare when sexuality is used from a female perspective, where they also have control (of the situation).”
There are many things to unpack in this episode, we get to see new parts of Tic (the monstrous soldier who murders when ordered to and the repentant, soft, virgin bookworm he is inside). Ji-Ah finds in Tic similarities she never would have imagined. Once convinced she would kill him, she begins to get close to him. She learns about America and its inequalities after asking if he knows Judy Garland. Tic explains what brought him here, fighting a war for a country that sees him as inhuman and oppresses him. She learns of his struggles with his own father and the complexities that come with fighting in a war, the lack of autonomy that comes with being a soldier, and how sometimes our escapes aren’t enough anymore.
But for this episode, we’re talking about Ji-ah and her monstrous femme journey. Through her relationships with Young-ja and Tic, she finds that she can love and be loved. She confronts her mother’s biases and learns to subdue her tails when intimate with Tic. She tells him, “We have done monstrous things but we are not monsters.” She is learning to love herself as much as love others, to no longer feel like a visitor or invader in her own body, but to embrace who she is and accept herself as the true Ji-ah.
Kumiho: Vengeful Intelligence of the Nine-Tailed Fox
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
What is a Kumiho (Gumiho)? Wikipedia defines the Kumiho as a 9 tailed fox spirit that preys on its victims by taking the form of a beautiful woman and seducing men with the goal of consuming their life essence, hearts, and livers. The role of the Kumiho seems to lend similarly to that of the succubus, vampire, and werewolf in western lore, in that the stories surrounding the Kumiho represent a beautiful woman preying on and seducing men, stealing their life energy, and sometimes their organs. One thing I appreciated about the Kumiho is that it doesn’t position the idea that women themselves are inherently evil, and ultimately there is an understanding of the capacity for good if the Kumiho were to fully transition into a human. The lore for the Kumiho does seem to differ from its Chinese and Japanese counterparts. The Wiki article continues to say ”While China's Huli jing and Japan's kitsune are often depicted with ambiguous moral compasses, possibly good or bad, the kumiho is almost always treated as a malignant figure who feasts on human flesh. It is unclear at which point in time Koreans began viewing the kumiho as a purely evil creature since many ancient texts mention the benevolent kumiho assisting humans (and even make mentions of wicked humans tricking kind but naïve kumiho). In later literature, kumiho were often depicted as bloodthirsty half-fox, half-human creatures that wandered cemeteries at night, digging human hearts out from graves.” An interesting piece of this reminds me of the similar fear that could exist within Vampire lore. In that, to exist for thousands of years allows for the acquisition of a complex knowledge of humanity and its history, as well as its flaws.
The Kumiho is also written as a creature of knowledge, sometimes carrying a book in its mouth, or with a bead, that is used both as a way to steal life force, but also as a storage of knowledge. We see this is Ji-ah with the kiss that steals the memories of her victims. The existence of knowledge is something that is unique to the Kumiho. “The most distinctive feature that separates the kumiho from its two counterparts (Japanese kitsune, and Chinese huli jing) is the existence of a 'yeowoo guseul' (여우구슬, literally meaning fox marble/bead) which is said to consist of knowledge. According to Korean mythology, the yeowoo guseul provides power to the kumiho and knowledge (and intelligence) to people if they can steal and swallow one. The kumiho can absorb humans' energy with it. The method of absorbing energy with the "yeowoo guseul" resembles a "deep kiss" (i.e. a kiss using a tongue). The kumiho sends the yeowoo guseul into people's mouths and then retakes it with their tongues.” The knowledge stealing is something that feels very unique in comparison to the other monstrous feminine creatures we’ve covered thus far. The intelligence associated with the Kumiho spirit offers an interesting twist on the fear associated with it. I think in some ways that could both be from a fear of knowing oneself fully, in knowing someone's life entirely, and being able to pass a form of judgment. That is the way in which we see the fear of Tik in Lovecraft Country, seeing the entire story of his life. Being able to view someone in all of who they are, in a state of vulnerability, unlike anything that is possible to humans, and with that knowledge pass a true and honest judgment on them. In Lovecraft Country this judgment is what saves Tic, and likely could damn others.
The lore of the Kumiho is something that has changed over time. In the story of the Kumiho “some speculate that the modern violent image of kumiho is influenced during the Japanese occupation in Korea. Nevertheless, foxes often contained a negative image during the Koryo Dynasty (Shin Don was described as an old fox spirit due to his love for women and drinks despite his being a buddhist monk), suggesting two different views could have co-existed in ancient Korea.” In this sense, the change of lore is a reflection of the fears associated with time. The violence of the war correlating to the violence of the spirit is something that could have been used in lore to make sense of the horrors experienced during this time.
A modern and scary/fun twist on 2022 is a fox spirit that has apparently been released in Japan. The “Killing Stone” has split in two in Japan, unleashing what legend describes as an evil spirit trapped in the Sessho-seki stone.