The Little Mermaid

Recently I watched the new film Decision to Leave (directed by Chan-wook Park, 2022)
It’s about a Chinese immigrant woman living in southern Korea, her husband found murdered and she seems suspicious
Suspicious but beautiful

So-rae’s husband was killed while hiking
She says “I like the sea more than the mountains”
She eats sushi bento so gracefully (now I want decent sushi, which is impossible in London)
She asks the detective in slightly accented Korean “Am I that wicked?”

She is the little mermaid of this story

There are so many little mermaids all over the cities where I’ve lived
They’re from far away they’re lost in a foreign tongue they’ll do anything for their husbands and boyfriends in a foreign land
They will abandon their family they will cut their tail in half they will die for their prince

I want to learn Japanese so I can meet my boyfriend’s parents
I want to learn Korean so I can communicate with my husband better
I want to learn English so I can finally get a degree and support my family
I want to learn my beloved man’s tongue
I will do anything for him

But the husbands never learn Chinese Vietnamese Cambodian Russian they never even try
The little mermaids stuck in their limited time with temporary visas

Then I remember once Sasaki in Tokyo told me “Yoon Dong-ju’s poems sound like a samurai song in Japanese” I thought, what an insult

Do you know the white sparkly sand of Haeundae Do you know blade sharp rocks of Dongbaek-sum
Do you know I used to fill my scalp with those sands and rip my feet with those rocks
Do you know my mum used to make oyster kimchi on her own Do you know how she would call oysters Kkul not Gool because it tastes like honey to her
Do you know how we used to slurp seaweed soup every morning Do you know my little brother used to devour eyes from cooked mackerels Do you know how my aunt would watch him so happily and stroke his head with hands reeking of seashells and fish sauce

Do you know the stench of abandoned fish guts on the shores the blood stains of sea creatures on concrete streets
Do you know how my sailor uncle would come back to Busan once in a while and buy me a Haa-d, not ice cream, while sipping So-ju and chewing raw flatfish on Thursday morning

And my cousins would call me Ju-yoi
I’d call them back O-ppa-ya

You’d never know
You’d say
Wow you’re so beautiful you’re so cool you’re so hot intelligent and funny

But you’d never ask what clams conchs gastropods eels and hairtails crabs and lobsters octopuses squids dolphins sharks are called in Korean

Even now the little mermaids are still loving the prince to their life
But the prince fuck love marry with someone else who got legs and speaks their tongues
The mermaids evaporate into bubbles to their home countries

You’d never ask what bubbles are called in Korean


이주연은 사회적 고립, 국경을 넘는 친밀감, 노동 불안정, 기술 발전, 산업 독성학과 몸 정치학 등을 포괄한 광범위한 리서치와 인터뷰를 바탕으로, 분석적이면서도 시적인 논픽션 무빙 이미지를 연출한다.

Jooyeon Lee works with analytical yet poetic non-fiction moving image with expansive research and interviews to capture urban alienation, intimacy across borders, labour precarity, technological progress, industrial toxicology and body politics.