Cinespect is proud to bring you coverage of some of the highlights from this year’s 5th edition of the Korean American Film Festival New York (KAFFNY), which runs from March 17-20. The festival promises many more films than the amount that will be covered here on the site but it is our hope that you’ll find yourself curious and eager to explore beyond what is reviewed here. This year’s edition offers more than 14 features and 25 shorts to choose from, which range from early Korean cinema up to the most current Korean American films.
For this second part of the coverage we have contributor Melissa Silvestri reviewing “The House of Suh,” which screens this Saturday, March 19. For tickets and information be sure to visit: KAFFNY – “The House of Suh”
Enjoy the festival.
“The House of Suh,” a documentary by Iris K. Shim, revisits the murderous brother and sister pair of Catherine and Andrew Suh, who collaborated to kill Catherine’s allegedly abusive fiancé Robert O’Dubaine in 1993. While 19-year old Andrew was the one who fired two shots into O’Dubaine, Catherine orchestrated the murder, and, going into their family history, had always had a strong sense of control over her younger brother, who always valued family loyalty. “The House of Suh” is less a murder story than a family drama of the Suhs, a Korean-American family in Chicago who held strained relationships with one another, and both siblings suffered tragedy early on.
Growing up in Chicago, the Suh parents were Korean immigrants, and had two very different children. Andrew was the reliable one, the one used to be the English interpreter for his parents during transactions, doctor’s appointments, and work-related tasks. He obeyed his father without question, an old-school father whose attitude was “My house, my rules, my way.” Andrew was also favored because he was the boy, whereas Catherine was not only the girl, but much more rebellious and questioning of authority. She always questioned why something was the way it was, and was at contentious odds with her father, at one point even battling to the brink of death with him. Catherine left home as a teenager, while Andrew, 11, was a child who attended to taking care of his father as he was succumbing to cancer in 1985.
Two years later, Andrew’s world was shattered when his beloved mother was murdered in a still-unsolved case, leaving Andrew an orphan and in the care of his sister and her new boyfriend, Robert O’Dubaine. Andrew lived a double life from then on. At home he was closely guarded by the couple, groomed to obey them and know that they were his only family, O’Dubaine being the big brother he never had. At school, to hide his family problems, overcompensated by being incredibly popular and well-liked, a charismatic football player, and a fun-loving guy. These two worlds played side by side for years, until, due to familial pressures, he could no longer keep up the façade, seeing himself as the “lonely popular kid with nobody to talk to.”
The film succeeds with its candid interview with Andrew, who is currently serving a 100-year sentence in prison. He is open and funny and talkative, while well aware that he is marked as a murderer for a crime that he was pressured to do. He doesn’t so much express remorse as rather saying that he was a very young man back then, and may have not been thinking rationally in the name of protecting his sister from O’Dubaine’s abuse. While there is a glaring omission in the film of Catherine Suh’s presence (who did not respond to the filmmaker’s request for an interview), she isn’t really missed, as the film takes Andrew’s POV as the pawn in Catherine’s scheme to kill her fiancé. But as it is known, revenge for abuse never brings the closure or peace that one hopes for. Andrew states that he had “tried to destroy the monster, but in turn would become the monster.”
“The House of Suh” fascinates with its look inside the twisted binds of loyalty in family, and how control and manipulation can pull family members in deeper because of the idea that nobody else can love you as much as your family can.