masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Koreans’ self-orientalism: The Kim Sisters 한국인의 자기화된 오리엔타리즘: 김씨스터즈

kim-sisters.jpgOkay, we know this is asking for trouble, but then even Chuck Norris apologizes to Master Lee, so I guess he doesn’t need to care… Now, what is a self-orientalising song? And why does Master Lee like to discuss them? Well, it seems that ever since a recording industry developed in Korea, Koreans have sometimes tried to sell their uniqueness by singing in a specific way and using specific words in order to make the performer and the culture he/she represents come across as cute and/or sensual, as emotional and spiritual – rather than rational – and exotic. It is a way of appealing to those who like to generalize one’s culture, and often in ways that are not particularly positive, but emphasize (unrealistically) unique “qualities”: the image created has little to do with the culture of the performer at all, and may connote that of a vaguely related culture instead. Self-orientalism is usually a way of selling oneself or one’s products to those who would otherwise O/orientalise (the smaller “o” having been introduced by Jennifer Robertson in her wonderful study Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (1998) as a form of Orientalism practiced by Japan – often considered a 1st-world nation – towards other Asian cultures), but one should be careful not to regard the phenomenon as applying only to East-West binaries (see, for example, Xiaomei Chen, Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). Considering expressions of colonial superiority and O/orientalism often entail a patronising view of another culture in ways that mirror (and express) the traditional gender divide (read: the oppression or abuse of women), would it also apply to women highlighting their femininity in front of Others? Possibly, though Master Lee does not take kindly on too facile adoptions of gender-based notions of power… (Master Lee only fears one thing in life: his wife…). It has particularly suited acts that catered to majorities of non-Koreans, such as the Kim Sisters. Interesting is that they may have represented a form of positivist occidentalism to Koreans, and by this Master Lee means a way of looking up to the West in the belief that the Koreans have the potential to emulate its socio-economic conditions. It is nevertheless more likely that they catered to the romantic Orientalism – or, in other words, the generalising view that Western and Korean culture are radically and incomparably different and that Korean culture has its own merits, rationality not being one of them – of their non-Korean audiences. Fortunately, there are not many such songs Master Lee can think of, though the Kim Sisters’ single ‘Ching Chang’ (Epic 5-9312, composed by E. Shuman and M. Garson) is a great example. What were they thinking…?

kim-sisters-1.jpgOther songs by the Kim Sisters that ought to feature on one such list are ‘China Nights/Shina no yoru‘ (Eisenburg, Leeds Music ASCAP) and ‘Chinese Lullaby’ (Helen Sapolin, Combine Music BMI). These two songs were included on the Kim Sisters’ album The Kim Sisters: Their First Album (Monument MLP 8022). Master Lee would like to hear your comments and would really appreciate your suggestions! Please? (NB: Master Lee rarely says “please”…)



  Dexter wrote @

I am the manager for Sue Kim of The Kim Sisters. Can you please tell me where you got that wonderful photo and if you have any more?
Dexter de Sah
Los Angeles, CA

  masterlymasterlee wrote @

Dear Dexter,

Unfortunately we don’t have the original. I once grabbed it off the Internet. It’s nice to see you’re still working with Ms Kim. You can tell her that we have met many, many fans of the Kim Sisters over the years, both in Europe, and in Australia.

M. Lee

  Ronald Vaughan wrote @

Nice to hear that Sue Kim is still around… I
saw The Kim Sisters perform only once…at
the long-defunct “Kono Hawaii” in Santa Ana,
CA., in mid-1982…odd timing,since I was to
go to Oahu,Hawaii,for 5 years. I never was
able to see them in Las Vegas,the titming
was wrong.

I met their then-manager,Danny Sawyer. I
later did music reviews for DISCOVERIES
Magazine and got into a music documentary.

I was always impressed by the fact that this
band was pioneering in getting women to
play electric guitars (including steel guitars.)

Their albums…and 20 or so “Ed Sullivan”
performances…should really be re-released.

  Pickard Trepess wrote @

Hi, I’m working with Tommy Vig and Mia Kim, here in Hungary and just found your page – great pics ! Anyone with more info/pictures on the Kim Sisters is welcome to contact me on I’m putting together a website for Mia Kim too

  Ben wrote @

Dear Dexter,

I’m currently doing research on the Kim Sisters and I would love to do an interview with Sue Kim. Would it be possible for me to get in touch with her. My email is

  Jason wrote @

I have an album called The Kim Sisters, Their First Album MLP8022. Is it Rare, do you know anyone who might want it?

  masterlymasterlee wrote @

Dear Jason,

Thanks for your message (and apologies for the late reply). Your album is probably worth around 25 dollars since it isn’t too rare (it pops up on eBay fairly regularly). Master Lee has one himself, but perhaps some one visiting this site may want to contact you and offer you a reasonable price for it. It is a great record! 🙂

  Bill Haight wrote @

My friend Bruce Bee & I met the Kim sisters on the beach in Hawaii in 1963. They were playing the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian. They invited us to Thanksgiving dinner in NYC the next fall. They were playing the Latin Quarter plus an Ed Sullivan Show. Kept in touch with them for a few years later — Roosevelt Hotel Blue Room in New Orleans, Palmer House in Chicago. Etc. Sue & Mia may remember me so say hello to them.
Bill Haight
Madison, Wisconsin

  Gene Montgomery wrote @

I spent a pleasant afternoon with a small group of Air Force GI’s, chatting with the three Kim Sisters at the Service Club at Pyong Taek Auxiliary Air Force Station in December 1958, after they did a USO show. They were extremely friendly to us, and didn’t seem to mind at all being “Shanghai’d” to a remote site with fewer troops. They were very popular back then.

  masterlymasterlee wrote @

Dear Mr Montgomery,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. We have been in touch with Sue Kim as recently as December last year, and will probably meet her again in the near future (she lives in Vegas with her husband). When we do, we will show her your response, as we know she would really enjoy that.

With best wishes,

Master Lee

  bob simmons wrote @

I was with the 728th military police in Seoul south Korea in 56,,57,,and the Kim sisters Played our club type place a couple of times. I was on here looking for them singing the Korean national anthem,,no luck though

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