As a horror fan I can admit to admiring how prolific this genre is in Asian countries, especially Japan, Korea and China, and with names like Kim Jee-Woon, Hideo Nakata and Takashi Miike (who consistently produces two, three and sometimes four films a year) being a point of reference.
Here are a few Asian horror films to watch this Halloween or just any time when you’d like a good scare. Why do I call them “modern classics”? A classic is “a work of art of recognized and established value” and modern means “relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past”, so we can consider these some of the best horror movies produced in Asian countries, in this case, since the late 90s.
RINGU [THE RING] (1998) – Japan
We all know the main character in this film, either from the original or the 2002 Gore Verbinski remake, as it is a part of pop culture with multiple references and spoofs in films and tv shows like The Cabin in the Woods or Scary Movie 3, to name a couple.
In this movie, directed by Hideo Nakata, journalist Reiko Asakawa investigates a series of deaths involving her niece and a VHS tape. Upon seeing it, people receive a call saying “seven days”… after which a girl with a dirty gown and extremely long hair in front of her face will crawl through the television and literally scare them to death.
The appeal for Ringu is not only the frightening factor of receiving the call and being haunted by a terrifying girl, but also the fact that there’s an interesting back story behind it: a mystery to solve in a 7-day countdown when Asakawa’s son watches the tape.
Its Hollywood remake is very well-regarded among fans and often considered one of the best horror movies of all time. Nakata also directed both the Japanese and American sequels (not so successful).
Based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki.
Written by Hiroshi Takahashi.
Starring Nanko Matsushima, Yûko Takeuchi, Rie Ino’o.
ÔDISHON [AUDITION] (1999) – Japan
A widower teams up with a film producer to set up a fake audition for a movie in order to approach women. Little does he know, the one he sets his eyes on is not who he expects…
This creepy and at times disgusting thriller will have an unforgettable impact on you. It’s brutally violent and extremely disturbing, even though it starts out mellow. Those who recognize the director’s name, Takashi Miike, will know ahead of time how controversial his films can become. When I hear about people walking out or passing out during certain movies, I can’t quite understand it when they don’t elicit that kind of reaction from me, but during Audition, anything could happen, in and off-screen. Needless to say, it’s not for the weak-hearted.
Based on a novel by Ryû Murakami.
Written by Daisuke Tengan.
Starring Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki.
HONOGURAI MIZU NO SOKO KARA [DARK WATER] (2002) – Japan
The first time I heard about the title of this film was from the 2005 remake, directed by Walter Salles (On the Road, The Motorcycle Diaries) and starring Jennifer Connelly and John C. Reilly. It doesn’t differ much from the original and in this case is hard for me to choose one over the other, but if you haven’t seen neither, give the original one a chance first. Some say it’s more of a drama with some paranormal elements than a horror movie. Either way, it’s one of my favorites.
Directed by Hideo Nakata, Dark Water tells the story of a newly divorced mother who moves with her 6-year-old daughter into an apartment where strange things start happening soon after. The source material, from the same author as Ringu, is again what lends the best part about the movie with Nakata’s storytelling style of slow unraveling, wide shots and hidden clues. It’s what keeps the viewer interested.
Based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki.
Written by Ken’ichi Suzuki and Yoshihiro Nakamura.
Starring Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi.
GIN GWAI [THE EYE] (2002) – Hong Kong/Singapore
I saw this movie at least ten years ago during one Halloween when it was aired on television late at night. It was a great, frightening experience. The Eye depicts the story of a girl who gets a cornea transplant to be able to see again. What she realizes quite quickly is that after the surgery, she’s even able to see whatever’s out of this world. As it goes along, the film, directed by Oxide and Danny Pang, becomes a bit jumbled, with some weird imagery and slightly confusing twists and turns, but overall remains enjoyable.
It became one of my favorite horror movies mostly because of the elevator scene, which for a long time I used to think of whenever I went into one. It reminded me of some of those ghost-spotting tense moments in The Sixth Sense.
Of course Hollywood, in its infinite originality, made a remake of this with Jessica Alba, but let’s pretend it never existed.
Written by Yuet-Jan Hui, Danny Pang, Oxide Pang Chun.
Starring Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Yut Lai So, Candy Lo.