Monday, August 12, 2013

FOREIGN HORROR: The Horrors of Asia


Because of my young interest in anime, my introduction to foreign horror films was from Asia. It was a disturbing introduction to foreign horror films, to say the least...but, because it was the Asian brand that I grew so accustomed to, it was a necessary revelation to begin my road into horror deviance.

The Asian mentality of horror is a very specific and intriguing one. Their horror spans the many sub-genres of horror, creating new interpretations along the way. From serial killers (I Saw the Devil) to gory snuff film stuff (Evil Dead Trap). Everything from zombie action (Versus, Junk) all the way to vampires (Goke: Body Snatcher From Hell, Thirst) and sci-fi horror (Tokyo Gore Police)...Asians have horror covered.

The very first Asian horror film that I could remember watching was a Japanese film called Hausu...or House, as it is universally known as. I caught the 1977 film on cable one evening and remember being completely mortified by what I was watching, and yet...my young eyes couldn't look away. It was as much mesmerizing as it was scary to me. The vision is what truly disturbed me. The fact that House  tried its damnedest to morph into all sorts of subgenres while maintaining its supernatural roots in which to really scare its audience.

Since my friend worked at a video store, at the time, I was privy to all these great titles...and Kwaidan's box cover called to me. Needless to say, the film was a foray into terrifying Asian cinema. Japanese filmmakers have a truly unique way of telling a scary story and Kwaidan  was among the very first films to employ these intriguing aspects, exploring some of the older supernatural folk tales in a cinematic anthology. The film inspired filmmakers for many years to come.

Perhaps it was the very first time I watched Gozu  when I realized how far the genre can go. It had so many strange elements that I've already been accustomed to thanks to my many years of watching hentei and horror anime. This film was some next level kinda stuff that has never really left my mind. Even now, whenever I see a vagina...I am instantly reminded of...well...you know. I know I'll probably catch hell for saying this...and I hear it quite a lot. This film is Takashi Miike's Eraserhead.

Audition  really shook me when I first watched it. It took everything you knew about the many traditions of the genre and switched them around. The final girl...was the antagonist. The conventional antagonist...became the victim. And yet...it was all brand new. Of course, Miike's calculating storytelling was a huge part of that film, as well as the brutality that you felt physically and emotionally. Audition  is, perhaps, my favorite Japanese horror film of all time.

Ringu  certainly introduced a whole new version of the supernatural film. It played with a different set of rules when dealing with the sub-genre's elements. An unrelenting evil that was not only inevitable...but, also very specific. Ringu  is usually considered to be a benchmark whenever the current state of Japanese supernatural films enter the conversation. Another film that is usually associated with Ringu (mostly because of the American remakes) is Ju-on. A film that not only takes the relentless nature of its horror to new extremes, but also adds a bit more depth to its lore. Featuring a curse that remains like that of a grudge. Simple, specific...and scary.

Japan is certainly the strongest country, as far as Asian horror imports go. However, China, Thailand and even Korea have given the land of the rising sun a run for its money in recent years. Take a film like 2002's The Eye, a completely original film from China/Singapore that pretty much hit the "restart" button on Asian horror cinema. It took all of the same kinds of supernatural elements and presented them in a new way, with a new premise.


Shutter  from Thailand, offered a new, creepy premise filled with unexpected terrors from unexpected places. While you could probably cite the previous year's One Missed Call  from Japan as a direct influence to the Thai-horror, it still had enough of its own elements to cement its own place in the genre as a significant Asian horror film. Both films utilized technological devices in which to mine its many scares from and both films introduced a new perspective on original horror.

While we're on the subject of significant Asian horror films that come from countries other than Japan, South Korean horror filmmakers have certainly made their presence known in the last decade. Kim Jee-woon being, perhaps, the most notable of the bunch. His films have a certain deviant beauty to them that make them full blown cinematic experiences in horror art. To watch a Jee-woon film is to be immersed in blood-soaked beauty. His 2003 film, A Tale of Two Sisters  presented a basic ghost story told through a new perspective. Kim Jee-woon's 2010 masterpiece, I Saw the Devil, remains one of my absolute favorite genre films of recent years, as it introduces the slasher subgenre with new, thrilling twists that take horror to a new place.

Speaking of slashers, Invitation Only  is a film from Taiwan that really knocked me on my ass...in a good way! I'll be completely honest with you, my dear reader. The only reason I even went into this film was for the inclusion of adult film actress Maria Ozawa. A young woman who can do quite a bit with fleshy bits. Invitation Only  ended up invigorating my appreciation for the subgenre, though, and made me look at Taiwanese horror as a force to be reckoned with.

So, as you can see, Asian horror has definitely come a long way since the days of Onibaba  and Kuroneko. Two classic J-horror films that helped create and shape the continent's many visions of horror. So many different offerings from many different countries within the same region of the world. And, really, Asian horror is one of the only places that presents a seemingly endless supply of horror sliced up in countless different ways. The only question is: Are you brave enough to sit through The Horrors of Asia?




Cheers!

-Damien






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