Asian Horror Movie/Drama Guide for Halloween (and Otherwise)Thursday, October 31, 2013
Halloween would probably be my favourite holiday if only it was celebrated here where I live, but it isn't (boo). That unfortunately being the case, I usually just spend the All Hallows Eve watching scary movies, which in turn inspired me to make this list of dramas and movies to watch on this spooky October's night.
I chose all the dramas and movies in this list, either based on personal viewing experience, popularity or recommendations. But because it turned out to be quite an extensive list already, I'm now thinking that I might update it regularly with new items. In that way it might be handy for anyone who's interested in the horror genre even after Halloween.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO BE SCARED
A Tale of Two Sisters (KOREAN MOVIE) - If you type "best asian horror movies" in Google, then you can count on that this will be one of the first to turn up. The film by Kim Ji Woon has been praised a lot for it's perfectly eerie atmosphere and frightening scares. My own experience with it was a sadly disappointing because I watched this after seeing the American remake Uninvited, and so I was fully aware of the twist-ending. But even so, I think it definitely deserves the attention.
White: The Melody of the Curse (KOREAN MOVIE) - In this horror flick, the scares take place in the glamorous (but actually not-so-glamorous) world of K-pop, which is an interesting setting for a film of this genre. The scares are typical and predictably executed, but I'd recommend to check White out for the critical view that it offers on the modern K-pop scene.
I Saw The Devil (KOREAN MOVIE) - Another highly rated movie from Kim Ji Woon, though it doesn't quite fall under horror genre. But everything that goes on is very frightening nevertheless. It's certainly not for the faint of heart as it is extremely violent and graphic from the very beginning to the end. But as it is so stunningly-filmed, acted and choreographed, despite all of the violence, the movie looks...almost beautiful, which is totally the wrong word to describe it.
Horror Stories I, II (KOREAN OMNIBUS MOVIE SERIES) - Sometimes horror works even better in small doses, as can be seen with Horror Stories I and II. Each of the movies feature four small episodes with various themes and characters, directed by different directors. And because the movies tell so many stories in one go, it makes also a good pick for Halloween as it wastes less time and ensures that you'll at least find one of the segments fitting to your taste.
The Cat (KOREAN MOVIE) - This suspenseful tale tells the story of a young and shy pet shop owner who suffers from claustrophobia and starts seeing apparitions of a cat-like girl. Though I find it hard to imagine cats being scary (because they're so fluffy and cute even when they hiss at you), the premise does have a unique touch to it, even if the little-girl-ghost is a cliche.
The Ring (JAPANESE MOVIE SERIES) - Probably one of the most well-known Asian horror films to date. However, I'd still recommend anyone who's only seen the American version to give a try to the Japanese original, and if that suits your taste then there are two sequels and a prequel as well. Some horror fans may even feel enthusiastic enough to marathon them all in one night. It's okay, though, because you probably wouldn't be able to sleep afterwards anyways.
One Missed Call (JAPANESE MOVIE SERIES) - To follow killer video tapes, we've also got a series about killer mobile phones. Not really my favourite pick, but if you like flicks with evil ghosts of long-haired girls then look no further. There are three installments in the franchise and also a spin-off Japanese drama series with the same name.
Ju-on/Grudge (JAPANESE MOVIE SERIES) - Yet another popular horror movie franchise from Japan. Most of us have probably already seen at least one movie from the extensive series or from the American The Grudge trilogy but, as always, if you've not seen the Japanese original yet, give it a try. There are six movies altogether in the franchise, which would be a bit too much to marathon in one Halloween, but if you're courageous enough then by all means do.
Thirst (KOREAN MOVIE) - Directed by the famous Korean director Park Chan Wook, Thirst is the first, but definitely not last, vampire-related item in this list. Like pretty much all of his other films, Thrist has been critically approved and warmly welcomed by horror fans. It offers an interesting take on the vampire mythology, using some common themes and also breaking several established rules. All in all, it's a thrilling and bloody love story, with a touch of dark humor.
Death Bell (KOREAN MOVIE SERIES) - The movie's premise is that a class of students of a elite high school are terrorized by an unknown killer and have to solve exam questions correctly in order to survive. Yup, this movie will show just how high the stakes are for South-Korean college entrance exams. Death Bell also has a sequel called Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp.
Audition (JAPANESE MOVIE) - Audition starts out as a psychological horror story, but eventually ends with a very disturbing conclusion. Not really a movie everyone can bear to watch, but it has been critically quite approved and has gathered a cult following over the years. For the experienced horror fan.
Soul/Possessed/Hon (KOREAN DRAMA) - Out of all dramas in this list, Soul is probably the one that is most true to the common horror genre, with its good amount of jumpscares involving a ghost of a dead high school girl. But the story starts out with an interesting mystery and introduces us to a set of characters that you cannot quite figure out. It also has a pretty decent cast with stars like Im Joo Eun, Lee Seo Jin, Kim Kap Soo, and Yoo Yeon Suk. Besides it's just 10 episodes long.
Hometown Legends (KOREAN DRAMA) - I am unsure under which section I should place this drama, but to be on the safe side I put it here. It is a collection of horror stories, all directed and written by different people which, as I've heard, is the reason why the quality of the show varies from episode to episode. Almost all of the stories are based on a Korean myth or a folktale, mixing historical backgrounds with some modern elements. First Hometown Legends aired in 1997, second on 2008, and third on 2009.
Ghost/Be With Me (KOREAN OMNIBUS MOVIE) - This omnibus movie was also quite hard to place, considering that the segments all have various tones and themes. There are three separate stories in it (excluding the prologue), each of them created according to the vision of a different director, as is usually the case with omnibus films. The high school setting is a common for all three segments.
FOR THE SCAREDY-CATS
Chilling Romance/Spellbound (KOREAN MOVIE) - This is a perfect pick for a fun Halloween night with friends. It's a spooky horror comedy and while it has some decent jumpscares, there is nothing too frightening about it. The romance is cute and the couple, played by awesome Lee Min Ki and lovely Son Ye Jin, is even cuter. Add a pinch of comedy and you've got a winner.
Vampire Idol (KOREAN DRAMA) - This one's a bigger committment because it's 79 episodes long, but it's probably one of the easiest to watch in this list. Made on a tiny budget, it's wacky, for some, perhaps even too wacky. But it has a lovable cast, including Kim Woo Bin, Lee Soo Hyuk and Hong Jong Hyun from White Christmas, and it's just light-hearted FUN. Plus, there are pretty vampires.
Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (JAPANESE DRAMA) - The story of this Japanese drama revolves around a shy girl who is obsessed with horror and gore to an extreme level, until four guys are given a task to turn her into a lady. To balance out the goofiness of the premise, there's also some melo and romance, but all in all it's a pretty amusing show with a very unique leading lady.
Freeze (KOREAN DRAMA) - Back when I had my vampire-obsession (before I knew Twilight even existed), I really really wanted to watch this drama but couldn't find it anywhere. My interest in vampires has since waned, though, and I've still yet to see the show. But what I do know is that it's a story about a self-hating vampire falling in love with a human girl. The focus is largely on the romance, rather than on the fantastical elements. It all sounds very typical, but if you like your vampires brooding and lovesick then it's just the thing for you. Also, it's only 5 episodes.
Hello Ghost (KOREAN MOVIE) - Cha Tae Hyun, who is a funny guy in both on and off-screen, plays a man who tries to commit suicide but ends up with an ability to see ghosts. Yup, it's a familiar premise but the ghosts are hilarious and Cha Tae Hyun is always a pleasure to watch. Plus, the story of the hero rediscovering his love for life is also quite heartwarming.
Ghost Sweepers (KOREAN MOVIE) - Don't know particularly much about this one , but it fits right in this list with the promise of ghosts and fortune tellers and funny hijinks. The cast is also likable, with Kim Soo Ro playing a news reporter and Lee Je Hoon a shaman, and they are joined by lovely ladies Kang Ye Won and Kim Yoon Hee. I'm thinking it's well worth checking out at least.
The Master's Sun (KOREAN DRAMA) - I'm pretty sure most of you have already seen and heard about TMS, but it definitely belongs in the list. The ghosts are both funny and creepy, and the heroine is just adorable. However, the real highlight is the romance, which thanks to the chemistry between Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub, really makes the drama.
Arang and the Magistrate (KOREAN DRAMA) - Want a fantastical romance story set in a world filled with grim reapers, demons, gods and ghosts, then this is the one to choose. Shin Min Ah and Lee Jun Ki make the sweetest couple to ever fight the forces of evil. Plus, it's beautifully filmed and the costumes are amazing (a few unfortunate wigs excluded). If you haven't seen it yet, you must.
Who Are You? (KOREAN DRAMA) - Featuring the HOTTEST ghost in the history of ghostly stories, WAY is a story about female cop falling into a coma, suffering amnesia and learning that she can now see dead people, which includes her deceased boyfriend's spirit. The drama didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to, but does have some spooky ghosts and mystery. And for that, it deserves a spot right here.
FOR THOSE WHO PREFER SUSPENSE AND MYSTERY
OVER GORE/INTENSE SCARES
OVER GORE/INTENSE SCARES
White Christmas (KOREAN DRAMA, 2011) - Suspensful, dark and unexpected. It's not scary in the typical sense because there are no jumpscares or fantastical elements, but the eerie atmosphere makes this a pretty creepy experience nevertheless. It's also a wonderful character study, with a big emphasis on psychological aspects. Not to mention the cast that includes some of today's hottest "it" boys before their big fame: Kim Woo Bin, Sung Joon, Lee Soo Hyuk, Kwak Jung Wook, Kim Young Kwang, Baek Sung Hyun, Hong Jong Hyun.
Vampire Prosecutor 1, 2 (KOREAN DRAMA) - It's a crime drama, only with vampires. Although it has its share of bloody scenes I think it belongs in this section the best, considering that the show follows the team of inspectors solving mystery crimes and involving some of twists and turns. It's stylish and dark, with a cast of engaging characters, wrapped up in a beautiful package.
Dark Water (JAPANESE MOVIE) - I remember first seeing Dark Water in my early teens and I really liked it back then. It's without any gore and blood, which is a rare thing in the horror genre today. The spooky factor lies more in the creepy setting and in the overall dark, almost depressing atmosphere of the movie. The story may seem a bit eventless for a horror movie, but it's tragic undertone is what makes it worth watching, and the ending will almost make you wanna cry.
Whispering Corridors (KOREAN MOVIE SERIES) - This famous Korean horror movie series is notable for helping to generate the explosion of the Hallyu Wave, the first film of the series dealing with several taboo topics like teen suicide and authoritarianism in the education system. For all the strong social commentary alone, it's worth to check out the film. Other films of the series are called Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs, Voice and A Blood Pledge. The setting is always an all-girls high school, but otherwise each film has a different theme and characters.
Coma (KOREAN DRAMA) - Mostly described as a suspenseful psychological horror, Coma is a 5-episode drama taking place in a hospital filled with secrets. Each of the five episodes is told from the perspective of a different character and features a new theme, but by the end they all come together to form a full story. The drama was filmed by four directors, each with a different vision which causes the storyline to change over the course of the series, but it's just one of the things making this drama unique.
The Eye (HONG KONG MOVIE) - I saw The Eye way before it got its American remake. For some horror fans this might be movie with too little scares, but I remember it fondly because it managed to creep me out without going too graphic or jumpy. The atmosphere is super eerie, especially when you put yourself in the main character's shoes and imagine how uncertain everything feels for her. Overall, it is better described as a ghostly mystery with a few really frightening moments.
Hansel and Gretel (KOREAN MOVIE) - As one might guess by the title, this is a dark retelling of the Brothers Grimm' fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. It's most oftenly labelled as a creepy fantasy than a violent scare fest. The visual side is also amazing. It's gorgeously filmed and the make-up and the sets are fantastical and imaginative. All in all, an eerily unsettling story, mixing drama and horror to create a messed-up version of Hansel and Gretel that will haunt you for Halloweens to come.
Confessions (JAPANESE MOVIE) - An intensely grim movie about a teacher plotting revenge against the teens who were responsible of the death of her daughter. Differently from most Japanese horror movies, Confessions keeps the violence and gore minimal and rather focuses on the psychological side. Certainly not a light watch, but greatly recommended for the intense twists-turns and the arresting visual side.
Death Note (JAPANESE MOVIE SERIES) - Based on the super popular Japanese manga, Death Note follows a young smart man as he discovers a supernatural notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within it. It's not exactly in the horror genre, but it is suspenseful and creepy all the way through. And some of us might find the death god Ryuk quite frightening. There are three films in the series, including the spin-off film L: Change the World.