As previously written about, contemporary Asian horror films, or the ghost stories at least, revolve around the appearance of that familiar creepy girl with the long, black, stringy hair covering her face that crawls around on the floor, up walls, beneath beds, etc, based on the Noh revenge ghost figure of the Onryo. The simple fact is that though nearly all Asian horror films thus far produced have been or are scheduled for the Hollywood remake treatment, nearly every one of those America versions pales in comparison. I first became aware of the genre of Asian horror along with most Americans courtesy of the remake of Ringu, the Japanese version of The Ring. In fact, The Ring is the only American version I’ve seen thus far that is superior to the original, though many others disagree, and that’s perfectly fine. With the release of a remake of one of the following in theaters as I write this, and at least one other scheduled for release later in 2008, it has become apparent that the Asian ghost film is the French comedy of this decade; a genre that has produced an awe-inspiring number of remakes that almost in totality suffer in the comparison.
You don’t necessarily need to avoid Hollywood remakes because there may be another The Ring hidden out there somewhere, but you really should make the effort to see the original first. Or even second. I don’t care, but just watch these freaking movies, will you! And start demanding that Hollywood start producing something even remotely as artistic and interesting.
The difficulty in writing about these Asian ghost movies is that you can’t give too much away so it makes writing about what makes them so good extremely difficult. Here is a simple plot description: A young woman experiencing amnesia learns that people around her are being killed off. The Ghost is kind of a difficult movie that requires either close attention or a second viewing because it is easy to confuse the characters. That’s not a racist statement, it’s just that with so many unfamiliar young female actresses with long dark hair, it’s really easy to lose track. This movie really starts to come alive about a third of the way through when the flashbacks begin to give you an idea of where you might be heading. Only, you ain’t going to wind up where you thought you would. The Ghost is not particularly scary, but it does have that wonderfully creepy atmosphere that doesn’t rely on the boo-gotcha effect that I wish Hollywood would unlearn. The Onryo in The Ghost gets a 3 out of 5 ranking for her own particular brand of creepiness.
The main character in this film is a reporter whose articles have not been very kind to some pornographers. When she becomes the victim of a phone stalker she changes her number. Big mistake. Her niece answers the phone day, hears something, and begins screaming uncontrollably. Phone is a film that just simply has way too much going on to tell you anything other than that, but you need to watch it for the performance of the little girl. She plays a vital role and to say that some of the scenes are uncomfortable to the point of deeply disturbing is to understate the case. You may question, in fact, if the little girl is a really a young girl at all, or is she a midget. Incredibly creepy movie for altogether different reasons from The Ghost and the others. Onryo factor: 2 out of 5 for creepiness.
A Tale of Two Sisters
If Val Lewton were alive today, he might have made A Tale of Two Sisters. This movie is a spectacularly atmospheric film that, like all the best horror films, is really a psychological thriller more than a ghost story. Don’t get me wrong. The Onryo in A Tale of Two Sisters is the creepiest I’ve seen, a definite 5 out of 5. While some might find the pace of this movie a little two slow, those people should probably stick to Bruce Willis movies and comedies where the word “wang” is considered highbrow humor. This movie in some ways also reminds me of The English Patient its story unfolds in a very seductive way before finally unveiling its shocking secrets. It is also not giving away too much to state that it is one of the most memorable films about a very particular and universal emotion ever made. I can’t say what that emotion is, but you’ll know by the end.
To be perfectly honest, the Hollywood remake doesn’t look too bad, but that’s mostly because it also appears to be almost a shot for shot remake. What makes Shutter worthwhile is that, like every other one of these films and doubtlessly others I haven’t seen, they are horror flicks but the makers understand that you need more than just a continuing body count and the occasional boo-gotcha. In fact, Asian ghost movies really almost belong in the suspense/thriller section than the horror section. A Tale of Two Sisters isn’t about who gets killed and the repercussions, it’s about why someone gets killed and how it affects them. The Ghost at first appears well on its way to being a story about the redemption of, well, a real bitch, but…well, I can’t say any more. And Shutter starts out like a simple haunting story, but turns into a film that has a lot to say about the power of that emotion that A Tale of Two Sisters is about. That film does it better, in part because it is also the most genuinely terrifying of this lot (it may give some of you nightmares), but Shutter, on the other hand, is a bit more accessible. Shutter effectively uses another standard device of Asian horror, the image in photographs that shouldn’t really be there. In fact, the effect of the ghost in the photograph provides the most startling moment in the movie. Shutter moves at a more Hollywood-acceptable pace than Sisters, which is part of its greater accessibility. And finally, Shutter also contains a quite effective Onryo to which I give my final score of 4 out of 5 for creepiness, and a 5 out of 5 for integration into the story.