8 Essential Films For An Introduction To Asian Horror
by Ford Maddox Brown
September 30, 2015
Aesthetically and thematically, Asian horror is disparate from its Western counterparts. The sub-genre had a prominent rise in the late 90s and is recognised for a focus on suspense and tension as opposed to gratuitous gore. The exploration of the supernatural through a psychological lens is also a distinct convention that defines Asian horror. Here are 8 picks to immerse you in the world of this unsettling cycle of films...
8. Ring (1998) Japan Dir: Hideo Nakata
Ring seems like an apt place to start due to the profound effect it had on Western audiences and the horror genre, sparking an American remake and subsequent sequels. As is usually the case though, the original is inimitable. The plot has gone down in horror folklore- watch a film, receive a call and in seven days you'll die. The story of TV reporter Reikio's attempts to break the curse of a video tape combines modernist subject matter with classicist ghost story elements. The film is enhanced by a screeching score and a restrained, atmospheric pacing approach.
7. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) South Korea Dir: Kim Jee-Woon
Kim Jee-Woon's third feature tells the story of two sisters, Soo-mi and Su-yeon returning home after a hospitalisation due to their Mother's suicide. Their widowed Father has found a new wife and familial tensions begin to build between the two girls and their new step mother as a series of disturbances begin to plague the remote country house. As the plot progresses, an overwhelming feel of paranoia and claustrophobia pervades the film to startling effect. The cinematography throughout is also outstanding, a visual palette that flits between expressionism and realism. A Tale of Two Sisters can be best defined as Korean gothicism. Not to be missed.
6. Noroi: The Curse (2005) Japan Dir: Koji Shiraishi
Here is an example of a found-footage film executed superbly. Noroi is slightly unconventional in comparison to its contemporaries due to its length and the narrative complexity, but if anything this adds a welcome depth. The faux documentary style is utilised to follow a filmmaker investigating a string of paranormal incidents apparently intertwined by their connection to a demon know as 'Kagutaba', the plot then escalates till reaching a breakneck climax. A developed mythology and some genuinely terrifying scenes earns Noroi a solid place on this list.
5. Shutter (2004) Thailand Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom
Shutter is an important film to consider in the Asian horror canon due to its adept usage of the archetypal 'Yuurei', which has become an integral component in the sub-genre. A 'Yurrei' is a vengeful ghost, stranded on Earth due to some trauma or tragedy and usually depicted as a chalky, ghastly spectre. The protagonist in Shutter is the photographer Tun, who's secretive past comes back to haunt him, primarily in the pictures he snaps which begin to reveal some disturbing images. An exploration of memory, trauma and guilt put Shutter worlds apart from your run-of-the-mill ghost story.
4. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) Japan Dir: Takashi Shimizu
Another film in this list to receive a heavy-handed Western treatment, Ju-On: The Grudge boasts some remarkable iconography and a bucketful of jump-scares. Some critics have taken a dislike to the non-linear, six part episodic structure of the narrative as they feel it negates the immersion. Despite this, Ju-On still has a place on this list for the presence of the now famous Toshio (or creepy pale kid, as you may know him). This exemplary J-Horror uses a subtle, minimal score and effective suspense building to evoke an ethereal feel to the piece.
3. Three Extremes (2004) Hong Kong, Korea, Japan Dir: Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike
Three Extremes is a collaborative effort by three leading Asian directors that contains a triplet of independent horror shorts. First up in this anthology is Fruit Chan's Dumplings, a disturbing tale that centres around an ageing actress and her attempts to to prolong her youth. Dumplings is haunting parable on the tolls of narcissism. The filling in this horror sandwich is Park Chan-Wook's (Oldboy) Cut, that sees a film director taken hostage and tested to his moral limits in this grisly spectacle. The final piece in the trio also happens to the the most complex. Box is the story, recounted as an author's recurring nightmare, of two sisters who contort themselves into a box for their Father's magic show. Box is an Edgar Allan Poe-esque yarn of tragedy and guilt that intrigues as it unravels. Three Extremes presents realistic horror vignettes in an imposing package, three for the price of one!
2. Dark Water (2002) Japan Dir: Hideo Nakata
Dark Water is a stylistic picture, drenched in melancholy and malevolence. Yoshimi is undergoing a messy divorce and she is forced to move to a dilapidated apartment complex with her young daughter. After they move in, peculiar events begin to occur. Most notably, the recurring visual motif of a mysterious girl wearing a yellow raincoat. The mise-en-scene in Dark Water is phenomenal and the ominous, crepuscular apartment complex, is the perfect setting for a foreboding horror narrative that equally terrifies and engrosses you.
1. Audition (1999) Japan Dir: Takashi Miike
Shigeharu is a film director looking to date again, so he decides to orchestrate it in a way he knows best. Casting. During the mock auditions, Shigeharu falls for an enigmatic and alluring girl named Asami. Success right? Lamentably, our hopeless romantic gets a little more than he bargained for... Audition is a macabre and disturbing work that plays on the themes of forlorn attraction, torture and sadism.