Mouth to Mouth.

I’m surprised I haven’t posted about Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, whom I knew briefly before her death in 1982 (the NY Times, inattentive as usual to anything outside its archaic notions of what’s fit to print, didn’t give her an obit until last year), since she was centrally concerned with issues of language — as Jonathan Morse says in this 2020 comment, “Or, specifically about language and its hats, you could save the time and expense by reading Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s experimental prose piece Dictée, with its English, French and Korean and its photographs.” At any rate, I was scrolling down the very interesting list 101 Hidden Gems: The Greatest Films You’ve Never Seen when I hit this, which I hadn’t known about:

51. Mouth to Mouth (1975)

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, US/South Korea

Mouth to Mouth swallowed me whole. But watching it also felt like breathing it in. Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s eight-minute video is a visual poem on the mother tongue and displacement. After a patient pan across written English and Korean, video static fills the screen. A mouth appears to enunciate but no words can be heard; instead, streams of running water and brushes of wind fill the soundscape. The noisy screen surface inhales the mouth; erotic and abject co-exist from moment to moment. With simple ingredients, Cha sinks into a well of emotions: home might be far away, but always with us.

And it turns out it’s available on Vimeo, so I’m posting it. If you don’t like experimental film, you won’t like it, but if you do, you might. Anyway, consider this my belated tribute to a remarkable woman.


  1. Thank you for this. Before she came on my radar fairly recently, probably around the time that the NYT printed their belated obituary, I had never heard of Cha.

    Interestingly, the basic Hangul vowel letters that are shown near the beginning of the video are given in this order, and a couple of letters are missing.
    ㅏ ㅑ ㅜ ㅓ ㅕ ㅡ ㅗ ㅛ
    a ya u eo yeo eu o yo

    For comparison, the traditional order looks a bit different:
    ,ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ
    a ya eo yeo o yo u yu eu i

    Not sure what if any significance this may have.

  2. Thanks — I don’t know Hangul (though I certainly should by now), so I was wondering about that.

  3. Another ’80s death that sticks in my craw is that of the artist Ana Mendieta, which obsessed me for weeks in the late summer of 1985, and I see that the NYT waited on an obituary for her until 2018. I’m glad they’re finally getting around to people they ignored at the time, but it pisses me off.

  4. John Cowan says

    Can we expect an obituary of George Washington any time soon?

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