The 2000’s saw an influx of Asian horror films being introduced to the Western audience. This is thanks in large part to Hollywood remaking one Asian horror film after another to capitalize on the success of The Ring (a remake of the Japanese film Ringu). But like most things in Hollywood, success inspires imitation. Later remakes such as The Grudge and Dark Water successfully turned the creepy girl ghost with long black hair into an iconic figure, masking Asian horror’s more diverse offerings. In honour of Friday the 13th, I present to you four brilliantly bizarre and well-made Asian horror films that steer clear of the girl ghost trope.
Dumplings (Hong Kong, 2004)
Every so often, a horror movie comes along that is so good and so horrifying because it forces us to hold up a mirror against ourselves and think about the ailments that pervade our society. Its impact stays with us long after the film is over, and we’re left with genuine feelings of uneasiness, disgust, and terror. This is what Dumplings did to me.
Dumplings is the brainchild of acclaimed director Fruit Chan, who is well known for portraying the everyday struggles of Hong Kong people in his films. The story follows aging former TV actress Mrs. Li, whose quest to turn back the clock leads her to Aunt Mei—famous for her youth-rejuvenating dumplings. These are no ordinary dumplings; they contain a very special secret ingredient. Wanna take a guess? Hint: it’s not shark fin or abalone.
What the film lacks in gore, it more than makes up for it with its disturbing premise, thought-provoking dialogue, and beautiful cinematography. Not to mention the bone-chilling sound effects of Mrs. Li enjoying the dumplings. Watch out for the ending, though. It may just turn you off dumplings forever.
Tokyo Gore Police (Japan, 2008)
Forget what you think you know about Japanese horror movies, this ain’t no slow-paced story about ghost girls with long black hair. Nope! Whatever you’re expecting from a film with the title Tokyo Gore Police, multiply it by 100, and you might be close to matching the film’s insanity.
Tokyo Gore Police takes place in a dystopic future where Japan is infested by engineers, who are criminal mutants that can turn any of their wounded body parts into deadly weapons such as chainsaws, samurai swords, machine guns, and man-eating creatures. Hunting these mutants down is Ruka, an engineer-hunter on a mission to avenge her father’s murder. Ruka doesn’t smile or talk much. She’s a total BAMF who’s ruthless when it comes to cutting up mutants. Oh yeah, the only way to kill these mutants is to cut them up so bad that you can remove the small implant in them that makes them what they are.
To say that Tokyo Gore Police makes generous use of special effects is probably the understatement of the century. However, unlike films like Hostel or Saw, the gore here is used so abundantly that I found myself doing more laughing than cringing. This is a true wet dream for lovers of blood and gore.
The Wicked City (Hong Kong, 1992)
Perhaps the most imaginative movie on this list, The Wicked City is one of the first horror movies I watched. Massively underrated, it is a live-action adaptation of a Japanese anime based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, who’s most well-known for the classic anime Vampire Hunter D.
Bearing a few similarities to Tokyo Gore Police, The Wicked City also takes place in a distant future in which humans live alongside an alien species known as the reptoids. Masked as humans in appearance, these reptoids’ superhuman intelligence and powers have helped them gain control of most aspects of the human race. With the ultimate goal of enslaving all humans and taking over the earth, the reptoids are suspected of being the mastermind behind a new powerful street drug called “happiness,” used to subjugate humans. To stop these reptoids, a special police squad engages in suspenseful and action-packed battle sequences.
With its graphic displays of sex and violence, and wild demonic transformations that include a humanoid pinball sex machine and an elevator reimagined as the insides of a reptoid, The Wicked City blew my 9-year old mind when I first watched it. Though I had a hard time following the plot, repeated viewings of the film when I got older have solidified my belief that this is a fun and imaginative masterpiece that was ahead of its time.
A Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea, 2003)
As a fan of horror movies, something I’ve always disliked about the genre is that a lot of the films have weak plots, preferring to focus on style over substance. This is not the case with Kim Ji-woon’s highly original 2003 film, A Tale of Two Sisters.
Based on a traditional Korean folklore, the story follows two sisters named Su-Yeon and Su-Mi, who, upon returning home after a stay at a mental institution must deal with a disturbed stepmother, an overly easygoing father, and a house haunted by poltergeists. But things are not as they seem. Halfway through the film, the audience’s world is flipped upside down when the direction suddenly switches from a calm but disturbing family drama to something much darker and more sinister.
Loaded with metaphors and symbolisms, this narrative-driven psychological horror seamlessly blends the characters’ mental instability with supernatural elements to create a dark and moody atmosphere that I actually found to be more satisfying than the film’s main twist reveal. This film is for those who appreciate a beautifully complex and haunting story with very little gore or jump scares. The twist is just the icing.