It seems an almost impossible task to write about genre cinema from the largest continent on the planet. When first given this article, thoughts of the incredibly frightening Thai film Shutter , the creature effects of Korean film The Host , or many of the films from Japanese director Takashi Miike danced in my head. That’s when a second thought entered my mind. Asia is a lot bigger than my first impression suggests. What about India, Pakistan, Russia, or the Philippines? Even that is only scratching the surface. It’s just not possible to cover everything here, but hopefully this will be a starting point for people to explore genre cinema from a few places they wouldn’t normally think of.
Combining elements that North American audiences are familiar with, excessive sequels and the anthology film, is the Shake, Rattle & Roll series from the Philippines. With the fourteenth film in the series being released in December 2012, this is the film with the most installments in the history of the Philippines. Beginning in 1984, the series has been going strong for almost 30 years, with the thirteenth installment still receiving high critical praise.
Anthologies appear to be quite popular in the Philippines, with films including Cinco , Wag Kang Lilingon , and The Road . Our familiarity with Asian films through remakes isn’t just focused on Japanese films either. The 2004 Filipino film, Sigaw , was remade as The Echo in 2007. A commercial success in the Philippines, Sigaw is the story of Marvin (Richard Gutierrez), a man who is enjoying life in his new apartment. Trouble begins when Marvin starts to hear his neighbour being abused by her husband. When Marvin and his girlfriend try to find out more about the neighbours, hauntings begin that follow them wherever they go. Now Marvin must confront the evil that lives in the building.
In Pakistan, the film industry itself is quite small, and genre films don’t exactly play a large part in that. From the early ’70s until the late ’90s, the output of film in Pakistan ranged from 40 to 100 films annually. Two films stand out though. Zinda Laash , made in 1967 just before the industry began to collapse, is basically a Pakistani Dracula film. While not the most original film, using many of the ideas from Hammer’s 1958 Dracula , it’s how shocking the film was for its time that’s truly interesting. It was the first film in Pakistan to get an X-rating, and was almost banned before release.
After years of little genre output, 2007 saw the release of Zibahkhana . Promoted as the first Pakistani horror film in a generation, or the first Pakistani slasher film, Zibahkhana takes just about every horror cliche and packs it into one film. Using elements from popular North American films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , Friday the 13th , and numerous zombie movies, the film was quite successful and is praised for ushering in a new generation of horror cinema.
India has a much larger helping of genre films, usually involving possession and exorcism. The vast majority of their horror films contain at least one person who has been possessed, or has been reincarnated in some way. Of course, many of these films also have a Bollywood element to them. Even in a horror film, there has to be time for songs and dancing. In 2008, the film 1920 was released. An epic undertaking, the film follows Arjun (Rajneesh Duggal) and Lisa (Adah Sharma), a young couple who want to be married against Arjun’s fathers wishes. Confronted by his father, who attempts to burn Lisa alive, Arjun renounces his faith and leaves with Lisa to be married. The couple move into a large mansion while Arjun works on plans to demolish it for one of his clients. The house is haunted though, and Lisa soon becomes possessed, forcing Arjun to decide if science or faith is the answer.
In 2011, Haunted – 3-D was released, not so much to critical acclaim, but at least to box office success. The first stereoscopic 3-D horror film in India, the film had the highest opening for a horror film in India ever. Remakes also seem to be a popular idea in India as well. With different languages being spoken in India, many films will be remade into another language. Imagine Canadian films getting an English and French version and you start to get the idea.
With little space left in this article, it seems appropriate to try and give some of the best examples of genre cinema from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Korea. North American audiences are familiar with many films from Japan, since they tend to get remade so much. Ju-on , Ringu , and One Missed Call are just a few. Some may also be familiar with films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man , a twisted Cronenberg like film, and the Tomie film series, which reached its ninth installment in 2011. Director Takashi Miike has directed some of the most bloody films coming out of Japan, not to mention some of the strangest. Visitor Q , Ichi The Killer , and Audition being the most well known.
Hong Kong and Thailand have produced some of the most frightening films around, like The Eye trilogy, with the first one getting a North American remake. There’s also the Troublesome Night series. From 1997 until 2003, 19 films were produced under the Troublesome Night title. Billed as horror comedies, the fact that 19 films were created in six years is astounding.
Also of note is the 2002 film Three , and the 2004 sequel Three… Extremes . A collaboration between Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea, the series has featured work from Kim Ji-woon, Takashi Miike, and Park Chan-wook, who also directed the incredible film Oldboy . Some of my personal favourites also come from this area. Re-cycle is a visually stunning film directed by Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang, and Shutter is easily the most frightening film this reviewer has ever seen.
Korean director Park Chan-wook has probably delivered the most popular Asian film around with Oldboy . One can’t forget the incredible creature feature The Host , as well as A Tale of Two Sisters , each extremely popular Korean films as well.
This is still only just a small sample of genre films from Asia. Hopefully this will encourage readers to begin seeking out some lesser known titles, showing that North Americans aren’t the only ones creating amazing genre work in the world.
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