What’s up, Horror Bound readers? I am back with part two in my series of Asian Horror basics. (Check out Part one HERE) So, last time we spoke about some of the greats who were kind of instrumental in bringing Asian horror into the mainstream. But, I mean, the big three weren’t the only ones making great films after that, there was a ton more. So, where to begin, then? I’ve kind of made a list here of some great films, in multiple genres, from differing countries to help get you started. That’s kinda what we’re here for, right? The movies. Once you’ve got these in your queue, your streaming app of choice will do the rest by recommending other greats in the future.
Yeah, we’ve all heard of the biggies: Ringu, Ju-On, etc. But there are so many other great ones out there. In these films, a spirit, ghost, vengeful soul, whatever, usually torments some poor, unsuspecting victims who are usually so scared to death, they come to their own horrific end, typically by their own hand.
Dark Water (2002) – Japan
Still one of my favorite Japanese ghost stories, Hideo Nakata’s (of Ringu fame) lesser-known Dark Water tells the story of a single mom who moves herself and her only daughter into a new apartment building. Once there, all manner of strange shit begins to happen all over the building, not just in their particular unit. There’s some really great visual effects going on in this film regarding the use of water (no duh), and yeah, I know there was an American remake made just a few years later, but after The Ring and The Grudge remakes, I didn’t bother watching any of the other remakes that got made here. Including our next entry on this list. Best part of Dark Water is by far the water tower scene on the roof of the building. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
The Eye (2002) – China
It’s hard to talk about The Eye without mentioning the work of the Pang brothers in general. Danny and Oxide Pang got noticed from their 2000 gangster masterpiece, Bangkok Dangerous, wherein their John Woo-esque filmmaking and masterful writing put them on the map. They’ve since gone on to work in various genres from fantasy, to kung fu action, to horror in this little gem of a movie. In it, a young blind woman receives a cornea transplant in the hopes to see again. However, once recovered, like Haley Joel Osment, she starts to “see dead people.” Thus, she starts a journey on the road to finding out just exactly where the cornea came from. It’s a haunting jaunt that oftentimes skirts the line of terror and madness.
R-Point (2004) – Korea
Easily my favorite Korean ghost story, R-Point is your typical “tortured souls” return to haunt and/or kill those that did them wrong, but what makes it unique, at least the thing that I liked about it most, is the setting and time period. Technically, it’s a war movie that takes place during the Vietnam War. A Korean platoon receives a haunting radio transmission from another squad thought previously M.I.A. When they go to investigate, each member slowly descends into lunacy and paranoia, resulting in, you guessed it, quite a bloody body count and an ending reveal that you’ll be telling your friends about. Bonus Content: While you’re checking out Director Su-chang Kong’s horror war piece, I would recommend giving his 1999 scripted Tell Me Something a view. It’s more a police procedural thriller, but it is soooo good. You’ll thank me.
Now we’re talking, right? Yes, the great Romero’s influence extended far beyond the borders of the U.S. of course, with the likes of Fulci’s Zombi and even Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, but yes, it made it all the way to Asia as well. And like the west, we get a blend of running zombies, trudging zombies, and even loving zombies.
Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies (2001) – Japan
When I rented this film 15 years ago, I knew it just as Stacy. I don’t know if later on it received a different name under a different release, but it’s worth checking out for it’s zany, bizarre, and distinctly Japanese aesthetic. In it, teenage girls, at a certain age, become a zombie through the accumulation of the “Butterfly Twinkle Powder” on their skin. Once changed, only people who are emotionally attached to the Stacies, like a lover or family member, can execute them. Otherwise the government sanctioned “Romero Repeat-Kill Troops” will be dispatched to hunt down the Stacy and kill it by order. Yes, this film wears its North American zombie influence on its sleeve, there’s also a reference to Ash’s chainsaw hand from The Evil Dead as well. But, that’s kinda what’s so great about it. There’s some decent gore and I don’t know if it was actually shot on video or just looks that way, but it only adds to the story in that it makes it feel that much more real. Admittedly, the only other film I’ve seen in Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s lengthy filmography is 2009’s Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, not as zany, but still worth a watch and we’ll talk a little more about the genre this hails from further down.
Train to Busan (2016) – South Korea
Easily the one Korean film, of any genre, that has gotten the most buzz over here in North America in recent years is Sang-ho Yeon’s modern day tale of a commuter line overrun by the living dead. We don’t really get much at the start as to how the whole mess starts except for a very subtle, and maybe not even accurate, mention of a leak at a local nuclear power plant. I say this because we don’t really know if that is the true cause or if the HAZMAT crew that mentions it is just trying to cover up the real reason for the outbreak. But I’m okay with that. I often tell my students to skip the entire preamble and just get us to the meat of the story, especially in films like these, because as fans, that’s what we’re paying admission for. I don’t really care how or where the madness starts, I just want to see where it goes and how our characters deal with it. I especially like that this film deals with more than just the immediate threat of the zombies, as awesome as that is. It’s also a story about family, and the journey we’re really following is that of our protagonist, a workaholic single dad who is trying to forge a relationship with his young daughter that he barely knows. As expected, there’s a decent amount of blood and guts in this one as well, the film moves at a fairly breakneck pace (you know, what with the train theme and all), and a nice handful of tension inducing set pieces make this one of my favorite Asian horror films, in general, of the last decade or so. Bonus Content: Be sure to check out the animated prequel film Seoul Station also directed by Yeon, which although a cartoon, does not let up one bit on the violence and action.
Junk (2000) – Japan
Yeah, I know, sorry, two Japanese films in this category, but what can I tell ya, the Japanese go so over the top when it comes to zombie films that I just can’t resist. Look, Atsushi Muroga’s take on the genre ain’t winning any rewards any time soon, but if you like your zombie films straight up no nonsense, with just creative blood-soaked kills and not much else, you’re in for a treat. A couple of jewel thieves retreat to an abandoned warehouse to divvy up the goods and await a meet up with the Yakuza to pawn off the rest. Unbeknownst to them, a group of American scientists had used the space previously to experiment on a viral weapon meant to resurrect dead soldiers on the battlefield. What follows is a fun and crazy romp through one of my favorite Japanese zombie films. What I like most about this film is it really feels like you’re watching a video game not unlike Resident Evil and the kills are wildly imaginative and entertaining. This one is pretty hard to come by nowadays, but if you can snag a copy, I highly recommend it.
Kind of a new genre to Asia, the splatter film is just that: a movie that prides itself on and practically focuses on just going as crazy and gory as possible. At the same time, it goes so over the top that typically these films are also hilarious and, I think, are meant to be; kind of a way to balance out the harsh and sometimes disturbing imagery with some silly nonsense so that we, as viewers, don’t take it so seriously. And the two gentlemen I would credit with the growth of the genre in the last two decades or so have got to be Yoshihiro Nishimura and Noboru Iguchi from Japan. Although both accomplished directors in their own right, Nishimura’s expertise lies in make-up and he has often been called the “Tom Savini of Japan,” and much like many of his North American counterparts, also started his own effects company back in 2010. Iguchi san, on the other hand, got his start in adult video and still directs AV to this day, with his 2005 film, Final Pussy, even going on to win an SOD award in Japan (pretty much the equivalent of the AVN awards here in North America). So as you imagine, when these two get together, and they have often, you’re going to get a rich blend of insane action, bloody effects and beautifully deadly women! What follows are my three fav films from these gore masters.
The Machine Girl (2008)
Iguchi directs with Nishimura handling effects duties on this revenge film. In it, our protagonist, Ami, hunts down the evil Yakuza bullies who have killed her brother, the one person responsible for her care since her parents death. Although it starts off with a pretty brutal scene wherein Ami is overpowered by said Yakuza and gets her arm cut off, it then sets the events in motion that lead to her getting the arm replaced with what is essentially a Gatling gun and hence turns her into the title character. Traveling with chainsaw wielding sidekick, Miki, the two vengeful ladies seek out the Yakuza responsible for the deaths of their family and wreak all kinds of bloody chaos as a result. Be sure to stick around for the battle with a female antagonist who wears the frightful “drill bra” and knows how to use it.
Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
Part Blade Runner (only the best film ever made), mixed with some Clive Barker and a dash of Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Nishimura takes over directing duties in what is probably know as the first commercial film in his directorial career. Much like some of the make-up greats here in North America who have gone on to direct, such as the previously mentioned Savini, his protégé, Greg Nicotero, and most recently, Damien Leone of Terrifier fame; Nishimura makes sure to highlight his skills in grand fashion once the constraints of having to answer to someone else have been removed. Not only is the gore ratcheted up, but also some of the make-up designs are purely horrifying. Here’s the deal, the film takes place in a future where our antagonist, Key Man, has created a virus that when transmitted to an unsuspecting victim, transforms them into a monster, that among other things, allows them to grow some frigging heinous weapons all over their body. Thus, a new division of the police force is created to deal strictly with Key Man’s creatures, referred to as “engineers”, and so the elite force are dubbed “Engineer Hunters.” We follow one particular hunter, Ruka, throughout the story as she battles her way through the army of monsters to reach Key Man, whom she believes holds the answer behind the mysterious circumstances that surround the death of her father. At its core, yes, it’s another revenge film, but there’s so much more going on when we find out more about the conspiracy perpetrated by the police force themselves that actually found Key Man’s dad and Ruka’s dad on the same side and therefore pits Key Man and Ruka against a common enemy they didn’t know they had. As such, Tokyo Gore Police is much more than just an empty canvas in which Nishimura uses to showcase his most insane ideas and creations, there’s also a strong story with great characters. And buddy, Noburu Iguchi, even gets in on the action, directing the satirical television commercials (a la Verhoeven’s RoboCop) that cut in throughout the feature.
Meatball Machine Kodoku (2017)
So in the years after our previous two entries, Iguchi and Nishimura work together on a few more cult classics like Mutant Girls Squad and RoboGeisha, again with Iguchi directing and Nishimura handling all the makeup effects work. Then in 2017, Nishimura gets the opportunity to direct a sequel to a film he had previously done only the makeup effects on, 2005’s Meatball Machine. Now, admittedly, I have not seen the first film, it’s currently on my watchlist in Prime Video, so maybe I need to see that first before watching Meatball Machine Kodoku again, in fact, I didn’t even know that Kodoku was a sequel before I watched it. That being said, folks, this one’s bizarre and on top of that, it’s a slow burner, but if you can hang in for the first thirty minutes, I assure you will be in for quite the wild ride! Our hero, Yuji, is just going through a really shitty time in his life. He hates his job as a debt collector, he’s been diagnosed with a life threatening cancer, and when he goes to collect his debts, no one ever has any money or they give him some lame excuse that they know the weak Yuji won’t question any further. His one happy moment each day is visiting the local bookstore and chatting it up with the young and pretty employee, Kaoru. Then, a giant glass dome from space descends upon a portion of Tokyo, cutting off those inside from the outside world, and unleashing a bevy of parasitic alien organisms among those trapped inside the dome. The organisms drive little helmet shaped ships that attach to the skulls of victims, injecting the alien parasites into their brains, mutating the hosts into mindless killing machines piloted by the parasites themselves (I guess where the film gets its name from). However, when Yuji’s parasite enters his brain, Yuji’s cancer cells attack it and kill it, but not before his body has already been transformed, thus allowing him all the power of the transformation, but with total control over his mind and body. So with that, and like most dumb men, Yuji sets out to see how his lovely Kaoru has fared through the invasion and battles all manner of Meatball Machines across the city to find his love. Alas, once he finds her, it is too late and Kaoru has been transformed as well, and not knowing any better, because of the parasite’s control, begins to attack Yuji, culminating in one final battle resulting in them dying in each other’s arms. How tragic. Although there’s no drill bra in this one, one of our Meatball Machines does wield machine gun nipples. Trust me, you got to see it to believe it, friends.
And there you have it, trusty readers: a compilation of some of the more noteworthy films across multiple genres, and multiple countries in Asia. Truly, this is only the tip of the iceberg, but as I stated in the intro, it won’t be long before you come across all kinds of other notable ghost stories, zombie films and the rest when you set out and do a little bit of curious research after seeing a handful of these greats.
Up next in the final installment of my three part series on Asian Horror, we’ll talk about what happens when East meets West and all this goodness comes overseas and not only influences many of our favorite creators over here in North America, but jump-starts whole new careers for some of those Asian auteurs in good ‘ol Hollywood. Stay Tuned and Stay Spooky!
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