The most iconic figure in Korean and Japanese horror movies is the kwishin. Exuding menace, the long dark hair hides her face and, whether dressed in every day clothes or a burial robe seeing one of these in a film is sure to mean trouble and suffering for all.
The Kwishin (귀신) is a traditional Korean ghost with a pale face, long hair and white burial hanbok. A restless spirit who has died a wrongful death and cannot be at peace she haunts those that did her wrong until justice is done. Just like the European Night Hag, the kwishin is responsible for sleep paralysis by sitting on the victims’ chest, or sitting on her victim’s shoulders weighing them down with guilt.
The origins of the Kwishin are in the shamanistic folklore as simply a spirit, someone whose life has ended, its the modern horror story that has helped evolve her. Indeed a few years ago on a forum I used to go to, people were telling ‘ghost stories’, adding to the legacy of the kwishin with ideas that “if you feel your nose itching at night, its because a kwishin is hovering above your bed and her hair is tickling you” and how we should always leave our chairs facing the computer when we go to sleep or else the kwishin will sit there all night and watch you(that one seriously upsets me if I think about it too much…).
In some ways, I think the kwishin has almost become a cinematic metaphor for ‘han’ – the complex cultural concept that is unique to Korea. Han is often defined as sorrow caused by persecution and injustice , a resigned and passive desire for revenge that is part of a person’s very soul. The kwishin is more aggressive than the idea of the Han concept, but you can feel its echo in the kwishin’s need for closure on the events that ended its life.
Onryō is the Japanese version of this type of ghost – wanting reveng for a wrongful death and attired the same – the best example being ‘Sadako’ from ‘The Ring’ of course!. The mere image of one can be scary – as this ‘Ju-On’ prank shows…