January 01, 2006

Japanese and Korean Horror Film

by Jeremy Lassen

Jeremy Lassen, Borderlands' DVD buyer here.  I've been continuing to bulk out the Borderlands DVD selection, and one of the things I emphasized on my last big order was Asian horror movies.  Not the sad, tepid U.S. remakes, but the originals.  Here are just a few suggestions for some quality Asian Horror.

The obvious first suggestion is the original Japanese Ring movie, Ringu, and its sequel Ringu 2, which are now available.  Both of these films are excellent and far exceed the thrills-and-chills quotient of the U.S. versions.  For the completist, there is:  Ringu: Anthology of Terror, which features all four Japanese "Ring" films (Ringu, Rasen, Ringu 2, Ringu 0).

Another very solid Asian horror movie is the Korean knock-off of The Ring, called Ring Virus.  Obviously derivative, but in many ways it is better then Rasen and Ringu 2.  Ring Virus is worth checking out.

Speaking of Korean horror, one of the most stylish and well-done Asian horror films of the last few years is A Tale of Two Sisters, directed by Kim Jee-Woon.  Based on a traditional Korean folk tale, this movie is the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" of Asian Horror films -- a big budget, high quality film that will appeal to those who have never seen an Asian horror film before.  A Tale of Two Sisters is a great starting point for someone who wants to test the waters of this particular sub-genre.

Speaking of water . . . .  The original Japanese version of Dark Water, directed by Ringu, and Ringu 2 director Hideo Nakata is also available . . . the Japanese version is substantially better than the lackluster US remake, and shouldn't be missed.

Another outstanding Japanese horror film is Usumaki (Spiral).  Sort of a surreal Japanese Shadow Over Innsmouth-esque story that has to be seen to be believed.

For an old school Japanese horror film that pre-dates The Ring craze by about 30 years, be sure to check out Maski Kobayashi's Kwaidan.  This is a high quality Japanese ghost story, and given that it was being made concurrently with the Roger Corman/AIP Poe films of the 60's(see below), it is all the more intriguing.

If we are covering Asian horror movies, we can't miss Hong Kong/Chinese horror, and the Pang Brothers are one of the latest flavors in Hong Kong horror.  Their films The Eye, and The Eye 2 are outstanding, and both are now available on DVD.  Another great (and humorous) Hong Kong horror film is Mr. Vampire, directed by Ricky Lau, and produced by Sammo Hung.  This film falls a bit more in the martial arts/fantasia side of the genre, but it features undead Chinese hopping ghosts, and seamlessly mixes humor, horror, and kung-fu.  This one should not be missed.

Of course there are many other Asian horror films that we have in stock, and I hope you'll come in and take a look.  There are a lot of great films coming out of Asia right now, and I hope you get a chance to sample some of them.

Speaking of great films:  Over on this side of the Pacific, Rob Zombie's second film, The Devil's Rejects, has recently been released on DVD.  This movie is light-years beyond his first movie House of a Thousand Corpses, and though it features some returning characters from that film, it stands on its own just fine, and is a completely different kind of movie. The Devil's Rejects is a grim homage to Sam Peckinpah's work, and is easily one of the best films of 2005.  Great acting by an ensemble cast . . . a dramatic and emotional experience that will stay with you long after you've finished watching it.

Because I promised not to be elitist in this column, I have to talk about my guilty pleasures -- those fun films that aren't great movie making, but are great fun.  In this category, the ORIGINAL War of the Worlds has just been re-released on DVD.  Not only does it have the cheesy but seminal 1950's version of War of the Worlds, it also features the original Orson Wells radio broadcast of War Of the Worlds, and this extra makes this DVD a must-own.

More guilty pleasures abound in a new MGM double feature disk of "Tales of Terror",  and "Twice Told Tales".  Both of these films are anthology horror films from the early sixties... between the 6 short films from both of these movies, you are sure to find something you like.

A guilty pleasure from Asia is Matango:  Attack of the Mushroom People.  Though it is kind of high on the cheese quotient, this 1950's era Japanese movie holds up remarkably well, and is an excellent and powerful metaphor for drug addiction.  More importantly, it's the only feature-length adaptation of the fiction of William Hope Hodgson.

And you can't say "guilty pleasure" without mentioning Return of the Living Dead, directed by Dan O'Bannon.  Long before Shaun of the Dead, this zombie movie perfected the mix of real suspense, real terror, good zombie FX, and comedy.  And it features an extraordinary early 80's punk rock soundtrack, as well as a career making performance by scream-queen Linnea Quigley.  Nobody does "sexy-naked-zombie" like Quigley

And since my columns have been very horror-heavy, I'll end this piece with a recommendation outside of the horror genre.  Studio Ghibli is an animation studio in Japan that makes some of the best animated features around.  Their movies are finally being released here in the states, the latest couple-of-which were Howl's Moving Castle, and Spirited Away.  Both of these are excellent, and Spirited Away is available now on DVD.

But I also want to recommend my favorite Studio Ghibli movie, Porco Rosso.  Porco Rosso follows the sea-plane adventures of The Red Pig, an Italian aviator who collects bounties on the various air pirates that plague the shipping lanes of Mediterranean.  Set between the two World Wars, with a hint of politics and romance to spice things up, Porco Rosso was obviously the inspiration for Disney's Dark Wing Duck.  Did I mention that Porco is an actual pig?  He used to be a human, but SOMETHING happened to him, and now he's an anthropomorphic pig.  It's never really explained, and doesn't need to be, as his appearance becomes the perfect foil for the themes and conflicts of the movie.  Very strange, and wonderful, and some of the most beautiful animation you will ever see.

And just note to whet the appetite of all you Ursula K. Le Guin fans who are still smarting from the mess that the SCI-FI Channel made of Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea... Studio Ghibli's next feature length project is "Gedo Senki - A Tale from Earthsea"   Right now, details are vague, but it seems to follow the events of Books 3 and 4 of Le Guin's Earthsea series.

As with my last column I want to leave you with a few relevant links to some on-line resources:

For information on Studio Ghibli's films check out one of the better fan sites out there:  http://www.nausicaa.net/

For WAY too much information on Linnea Quigley, check out the "Official Fan Site" at: http://www.linneaquigleycircle.com/index2.html

For an excellent Primer on "New Asian Horror", check out http://www.greencine.com/static/primers/asianhorror2.jsp

Until next month, keep watching those movies, and let me know if there are any movies out there that we should have, but don't.

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