We’re an entire month into the New Year. 2017 brought horror back into the lime light of popular cinema in full force. Now a solid month into 2018, are you keeping up with your New Year’s Resolutions? Fear not, fiends, there is always time to try something new! What better way to better yourself than expanding something you love?
Let’s talk about East Asian Horror. This sub-genre primarily consists of films from Eastern Asian countries including: Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and others. Much like Giallo, French, or other film fanatics outside of North America; the horror blends in elements unique to the cultures from which they come. Some elements that are popularized in these films include a strong connection to the supernatural or that they don’t shy away from the ultra violence.
Currently there are as many films in this sub genre as any in horror. To help get you introduced to the horror out East, here are twelve films to get you started and why you should watch them.
Ju On (Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2002)
Synopsis – Rika Nishina is a social worker assigned to watch over an ailing, elderly woman, but the house she lives in holds a dark whisper. Years before, a brutal double murder of a mother and her child left an imprint on the home. Their vengeful spirits will haunt whoever goes within this house’s walls until they vanish mysteriously. Rika, now tormented by these angered specters, must find out how to lift the curse of become one its victims.
Why You Should Watch – Jo On is a perfect starter for anyone wanting to explore East Asian Horror. It was one of the first few films to be adapted for North American audiences. Sam Raimi himself assisted with the production of the film, which saw wide release. The pacing and the way the cinematography of the original Japanese version will make you sit and watch the horror as it creeps its way towards you.
Shutter (Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom, Thailand, 2004)
Synopsis – Thun, a young photographer, and his girlfriend Jane flee from a car accident resulting in them leaving a badly hurt woman. Afterwards, ghostly images begin to appear in the photos that Thun takes. As the ghostly images become more frequent and the hauntings of a ghost woman begin, Jane begins to wonder, is there more to these ghostly torments?
Why You Should Watch – This is another film to get the Hollywood adaptation for North American release. Unlike similar films, The Grudge and The Ring, Shutter’s American adaptation was not as well received. The original version showcases a more fleshed out backstory to the spirit haunting Thun and Jane, as well as more ghost photography to send shivers down your spine.
Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea, 2016)
Synopsis – Sok-woo is a busy man, so busy that time for his daughter Soo-ahn is usually a luxury. The divorcee wanting to please his daughter, decides to taker her on the KTX from Seoul to Busan so that she can see her mother. Things do not go well for their travels as a zombie outbreak wreaks havoc in South Korea. Now Sok-woo must protect his daughter from flesh eaters and the paranoid living alike, while trying to make it to Busan and possibly safety.
Why You Should Watch – Easily a good way to get into the style and cultural approach to Korean cinema while not shying away from the things that will make your skin crawl. The unique and fresh approach to the zombie theme has resulted in the film’s growing popularity everywhere. Keep an eye out for director Yeon Sang-Ho’s take on the superhero film, which will also be distributed by Netflix.
Noroi: The Curse (Koji Shiraishi, Japan, 2005)
Synopsis – Renowned paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi is missing. His home is burnt down and the remains of his wife are within the ashen ruins. The film centers on the recordings of his newest, in development documentary ‘The Curse’. Find out what event led to Kobayashi’s disappearance and what dark story he was investigating.
Why You Should Watch – This is one of the best, found footage style horror films to see. Not only does the film follow some of the scare tactics seen in found footage, the film delves deeply into Japanese spiritualism and mythology. The movie is a slow burn but it will captivate you for every second.
Memento Mori (Kim Tae-yong & Min Kyu-dong, South Korea, 1999)
Synopsis – High school students Yoo Shi-eun and Min Hyo-shin find love in one another. Sadly the other students find out and chastise the two for their ‘taboo’ love. To avoid further criticism, Shi-eun begins distancing herself from Hyo-shin. Hyo-shin reacts by throwing herself of the roof of the school. After her death, supernatural terrors befall the students that criticized the relationship between the two.
Why You Should Watch – This is technically the second installment in the Whispering Corridors series. Each film centers on supernatural events in an all girls’ school setting with multiple characters to follow and focusing on the relationships between characters. The films are sort of campy with lower budgets and fun special effects. This one stands out as it focuses on a touchy subject even now in some parts of the world. Be sure to check out the other installments in the series.
A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea, 2003)
Synopsis – Su-mi is returning home after some time in a mental institution. She returns to her family home to live with her younger sister Su-Yeon, their father, and their distant stepmother. Tensions are high between Su-mi and her stepmother, as she suspects abuse of her younger sister. With these tensions spreading amongst the family, hidden secrets come forth and the family’s tragic past begins to haunt the home.
Why You Should Watch – Family can be hell and returning home after time away can be worse. A Tale of Two Sisters explores this dark sensibility of a family’s past and does not give the viewer everything right up front. What make this film shine are the quiet moments. There are a lot of long periods of silence, making the audience focus in on the scene, searching along with Su-mi to find out more about what secrets hide in the walls.
Kairo [Pulse] (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2001)
Synopsis – Kudo Michi is searching for her friend after he went missing while working on a computer disk. While looking for him, she comes across strange sightings, black stains on the walls of other missing person’s homes, and a rising number of suicides happening across the city. At the same time, Ryosuke, an economics student, finds disturbing images of ghastly people alone in their rooms. Is it his new Internet service or is there something more supernatural at work?
Why You Should Watch – Technology helps us reach out to every corner of the earth, but what if it connected us to a complete other side of reality? A door can be opened as easily as typing in a URL. The film showcases that fear of an always-connected lifestyle. Kairo was another film to get the American adaptation but was easily forgotten amongst the slur of remakes. Luckily the original still stands out, giving us two diverging storylines that eventually intertwine by the film’s end.
Re-Cycle (The Pang Brothers, Hong Kong, 2006)
Synopsis – Ting-yin is a successful novelist trying to write her big follow up. After a trilogy of romance novels, she hopes to break into new genres. Writer’s block comes and now she isn’t sure where to take her new novel. After one chapter she deletes what she has, but things begin getting strange. Now she’s finding that the paranormal experiences around her are straight from the pages she wrote.
Why You Should Watch – For those that love creative worlds where you can be engrossed in the film’s setting, this one is for you. Re-Cycle is gleaming with strange creatures and an imaginative world likened to that of Alice in Wonderland. Going to a much darker and horrific approach, the film will push your comfort zones to a new level.
Thirst (Park Chan-wook, South Korea, 2009)
Synopsis – Father Sang-hyun is a devout religious man plagued by self doubt and a deep sadness for his life spent. With his desires to aide the ailing, he submits himself to research for a vaccine to a deadly virus that fails and leaves him to die. After a blood transfusion hoping to slow his death, he miraculously recovers. Changes begin to occur within the priest, while dealing with the title of a miracle healer and a captivating woman named Kang-woo, resulting in him to wonder why this dark hunger plagues him.
Why You Should Watch – This is a classic vampirism tale told from a more dramatic and conflicted state, while also dealing with the cultural expectations of the area. We watch as an already troubled man of faith deals with his own inner demons as well as the thirst now building in Sang-hyun. The film is moody and full of existential crisis within the main protagonist. A must watch for any vampire fan out there.
I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea, 2011)
Synopsis – Kim Soo-hyun is a secret service agent for the National Intelligent Service. One cold, winter night his fiancée Joo-yun is brutally murdered and her body parts are scattered throughout the town. Grief stricken and vowing vengeance, Soo-hyun begins a hunt to find her killer. What ensues is a descent into a dark world where Soo-Hyun tracks down and torments killer Jang Kyung-chul, no matter the cost.
Why You Should Watch – The film is a fantastic example of a theme common in countries like Japan and South Korea, which are the revenge thrillers/horror. While the film at times seems to sway more in the style of thriller, the concepts at play make the film horror genre worthy. There is excessive gore and graphic violence that make even the most secure stomach squirm. The film makes you wonder, how do you know who is possibly a murderer and who isn’t?
Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan, 1999)
Synopsis – Lonely widower Shigeharu Aoyama might be ready to move on and find love again. With the urgency from his son and the help of his close friend, Shigeharu hosts a phony audition to meet his next love. That’s when he meets the beautiful and reserved Asami. He is immediately infatuated with her. Despite being unable to confirm some of the contact on her resume, Shigeharu dates, beds, and proposes to Asami. The night of their engagement Asami disappears without a trace and he must search for her. During his search he begins to see that she may not be the woman of his dreams but of his nightmares.
Why You Should Watch – This is one of the earlier films from renowned auteur Takashi Miike. He is no novice to the horror genre and has specialized in some of the darkest and demented stories to see on the screen. The moment Asami enters the screen you can tell something is off. Audition will pull you in and lead you somewhere dark you will never forget.
Three… Extremes (Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan 2002)
Synopsis – The film is broken into three different segments, written and directed by different people in different countries.
Dumplings (Fruit Chan): Mrs. Li is an aging actress who wishes to rejuvenate her youth. With her husband taking on a mistress behind her back, she hopes a secret dumpling recipe from Aunt Mei with help her. What would you do to stay young and beautiful?
Cut (Park Chan-wook): Watch a deadly game, as a successful film director must face off against a deranged extra from his films. The extra is upset that such a man can exist who is wealthy and also a good person, when he is poor and abusive to his family. With the director and his wife’s life in the balance, he must prove that he is not as good as he seem to be.
Box (Takashi Miike): Kyoko is a novelist who is stricken with nightmares of her youth in the circus. Her memories of her late twin sister Shoko, and their benefactor Higata, who she had left behind long ago, haunt her. Kyoko then one day receives an invitation to the old circus she was once a part of, leaving her to wonder if that part of her life is actually behind her.
Why You should Watch – This one of the best introductions to East Asian Horror, hands down. The film instead of having a singular director for all three segments gathers three of the biggest names in the genre from each country of origin. Park Chan-wook, Fruit Chan, and Takashii Miike are some of the biggest names in their countries. Each brings their own style and approach to the horror genre. The first segment Dumplings, was also adapted into a feature length film in Hong Kong. The film also spawned a sequel with three different segments from different regions.