A look into Asian Horror: Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai | As we continue to branch out into different areas of entertainment, I have the honor of hitting on a film genre that I am absolutely in love with. If the title didn’t give it away, that genre is Horror. Personally, I feel that the art of Horror has died in the United States, dumbing the movies down to PG-13 (for freaking teenagers) or overly relying on Gore, it is very rare anymore to find a good psychological horror flick or one that seeks out to scare the ever living hell out of you.

    In my thirty six years on this earth, I’ve probably seen over a thousand different horror movies from all over the world in my quest to find something genuinely scary. Honestly speaking, it is really hard for me to get scared during a movie, I am really desensitized to the typical scares, but I can enjoy a horror movie for what it is usually. So today, I’m going to look at twenty different movies, from four countries, and rank them into top five’s for each country. I won’t give away the entirety of the movies, but I will add the Synopsis for each and then give my personal take on the movies. I will avoid as many spoilers as I can, but obviously there is a spoiler warning just in case it can’t be helped. I’ll also not go into too much detail about each movie, I am going to be talking about twenty of them after all.

    We’re going to start the journey with a trip to China, and it’s territories, first. China isn’t really a country most people will think to look to when it comes to horror movies, but believe it or not, the Chinese can make some pretty good horror films. From my experience with their films, the Chinese tend to keep to the kinds of movies that make you think and keep you guessing. There are exceptions to the rule of course. I’ve seen some pretty good ghost stories out of China. Let’s deep dive, shall we?

    5. Gau Ji aka Dumplings (2004)
    Not Rated ; Drama / Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: Aunt Mei’s famous homemade dumplings provide amazing age-defying qualities popular with middle-aged women. But her latest customer – a fading actress – is determined to find out what the secret ingredient is.

    We’re starting off with a doozy here. If you’ve ever seen the movie 3 Extremes, then this story will be familiar to you and you will know what happens. Gau Ji expounds and extends the story from 3 Extremes into a one hour and thirty one minute ride into depths that the faint hearted dare not tread. If you’re squeamish or easily offended, do not watch this movie. The big reveal of what Aunt Mei’s ‘famous’ dumplings are made of will make you never look at dumplings the same way ever again. Give this one a watch if you’re curious but be prepared, that’s all I’ll say.

    4. Geung see aka Rigor Mortis (2013)
    Not Rated ; Action / Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A public housing tenement is plunged into a dark storm of supernatural chaos.

    So we’re diving into Rigor Mortis next. IMDB says “In this eerie and chilling, contemporary, action/special effects laden homage to the classic Chinese vampire movies of the 1980’s” and that is exactly what you are getting, but with some extra elements added in like ghosts and zombies. It is a pretty fun ride with a good amount of action built into the ‘horror’ story that is being told here. While not as shocking or depraved as Dumplings, this one does give you one fun ride from start to finish. Definitely worth a watch for those who are fans of the genre.

    3. Gui si aka Silk (2006)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery / Sci-Fi – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: Aiming to harness the energy found in some supernatural spirits, scientist Hashimoto and colleagues catch the ghost of a young boy. Hashimoto plans to use the energy to fuel an anti-gravity device he’s invented. But, in order to tap into the ghost’s essence, he must understand the silent words coming from its mouth.

    Silk is one of those movies that will make you think. It’s a true mystery film but it has a very good horror element to it. Without going too deep into the plot, we get the sci-fi element from this experimental device called the “Menger Sponge” in the film. What follows is a twisting and turning adventure as the scientists and a police officer try to figure out just why the boys spirit is still on this plane of existence. This Taiwanese ( and I looked, Taiwan is a Chinese Territory ) film is one of the better movies I’ve seen to come from China or one of it’s territories. Definitely worth a watch if you’re into movies that will keep you guessing and make you think.

    2. Zong xie aka The Rope Curse (2018)
    Not Rated ; Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: Hoping to make a viral video by streaming a mysterious rope ritual, a couple falls into a deadly curse instead that turns their lives upside down.

    So here we go. This one has a bit of a loose plot, and a very stupid boyfriend, but it is a really creepy movie with a good atmosphere. The premise is pretty solid and rather unique, I hadn’t ever really seen a movie where ropes are cursed. Basically, this is what you’re getting into here. “It is believed that when someone commits suicide by hanging, the rope used in the act will be cursed. In China’s Fujian Province, ancient rituals are carried out to lift the curse from the rope by setting it on fire and placing it in the sea. Intrigued by it, Jia-Wei, a daytime television network employee who spends his nights streaming videos of bizarre things, and his fiancee decide to make a viral video by streaming the ritual.” If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, especially one involving curses, you know this is a stupid thing to do. However, this is another solid Taiwanese horror flick that deserves a chance to be viewed by all horror aficionado’s.

    1. Gin gwai aka The Eye (2002)
    Rated R ; Drama / Fantasy / Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she will be able to see again. She gets more than she bargained for upon realizing she can also see ghosts.

    If you’ve ever seen the abomination of an American remake featuring Jessica Alba, then you’ll know the premise of this movie. What the US version lacks, the original delivers in spades. Not to mention it has two sequels that are every bit as good as the original, and are not quite the same story wise. Would you accept being able to see ghosts in exchange for being able to see? I don’t know if I could, but this movie explores what could happen and the consequences of such a gift. This horror flick from Hong Kong is the pinnacle of Chinese horror and should be on every horror fans watch list.

    Now we travel to the land of the rising sun, Japan. My favorite country to visit, the home to my favorite wrestling promotion and I am an unashamed otaku/weeb. I love everything about Japan. Japan is known for over the top gore and blood effects in their horror movies, like in Tokyo Gore Police, but they also have some iconic horror films that have become well known throughout the world. I’m going to be keeping away from the over the top as much as I can here and introduce you to some of the better and more iconic Japanese horror flicks.

    5. Jisatsu sâkuru aka Suicide Club (2001)
    Not Rated/Rated R ; Crime / Drama / Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: 54 high school girls throw themselves in front of a subway train. This appears to be only the beginning of a string of suicides around the country. Does the new all-girl group Desert have anything to do with it? Detective Kuroda tries to find the answer, which isn’t as simple as one could hope.

    When you, literally, start a movie off by having 54 high school girls jump, in unison, in front of a moving train to kill themselves, you know you’re in for a ride. Suicide Club caused some controversy as some believed that it glamorized suicide, but I personally love this movie. It’s not the scariest film ever, in fact it’s more of a drama than a horror movie, but it does have its moments where the scenes could be disturbing. There is a bit of over the top blood and scenery in this film, but start to finish it is one of the best movies from Japan that I have ever seen. It even has a spiritual successor, which acts as a prequel, sequel and concurrent film all in one called Noriko’s Dinner Table. Check them both out if you’re intrigued, I promise that you won’t regret it.

    4. Chakushin ari aka One Missed Call (2003)
    Rated R ; Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: People mysteriously start receiving voicemail messages from their future selves, in the form of the sound of them reacting to their own violent deaths, along with the exact date and time of their future death, listed on the message log. The plot thickens as the surviving characters pursue the answers to this mystery which could save their lives.

    Let’s not confuse this with the absolutely dreadful American remake, please. The original One Missed Call trilogy is an amazing work of horror and mysterious art. Sure, the third film isn’t as good as the first two, but when are sequels ever better? We’ve got a movie where you get a phone call from your own cell number, in your own voice, basically telling you exactly when and how you are going to die. What would you do if you got this call? Would you try to change your fate or ignore it? This is one ride you do not want to miss, especially if you watched the American version. Come for the mystery, stay for the terror that comes when you know you cannot fight fate.

    3. Ringu (1998)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A reporter and her ex-husband investigate a cursed video tape that is rumored to kill the viewer seven days after watching it.

    Ringu is absolutely iconic in the horror community. It spawned the American ‘Ring’ series of films, which admittedly are not that terrible, and it has several sequels. Even a film where the antagonist of Ringu faces off against the antagonists of Ju-On. If you are a fan of horror films, especially those from Japan, you absolutely have to watch this movie. There are very few movies or series that come from Japan that are more iconic than Ringu. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not watching this masterpiece.

    2. Ju-on aka The Grudge (2002)
    Rated R ; Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A mysterious and vengeful spirit marks and pursues anybody who dares enter the house in which it resides.

    We’ve arrived at number two and that honor belongs to Ju-on. Another absolutely iconic film out of Japan, this film has spawned several sequels and it’s own successful American version of films. While I personally am not a fan of the American versions, the Japanese series of Grudge films are amazing. You’ve got a long running series of successful films, a genuinely creepy atmosphere in each, and a story that just doesn’t want to die. Much like the curse of Ju-on. Ringu and Ju-on are both absolutely terrifying and creepy as hell. I highly recommend them both.

    You’ve got to be asking if Ringu and Ju-on aren’t number one, then what is? Well, the answer should be obvious for those who love Japanese horror films.

    1. Ôdishon aka Audition (1999)
    Rated R ; Drama / Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all.

    Number one belongs to Takashi Miike’s film Audition. Miike is known for his absolutely gruesome and terrifying films, and Audition does not let his fans down. Arguably one of the most gruesome films in his catalog, Audition is a wild and grotesque psychological ride from beginning to end. I’d argue that the drama and mystery of this film are overshadowed by the psychological horror it instills in audiences. Beware, this is not for the feint of heart, and don’t be fooled by it’s satirically comedic set-up. When Audition is finished, you may just want to throw up, or praise the film-makers for being so bold. 

    So far we’ve visited Japan and China, showcasing five truly great horror films from each country. We’re going to jump on a boat and head to Thailand next. I got my first taste of Thai horror thanks to the Tartan Asia Extreme series and it’s been one of my favorite countries for horror ever since. Let’s take a look and hopefully introduce you to some new films.

    5. Shutter (2004)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery / Thriller – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A young photographer and his girlfriend discover mysterious shadows in their photographs after a tragic accident. They soon learn that you can not escape your past.

    Shutter is a creepy and really scary horror movie. The story is very well developed, following an excellent pace, and has a twist to an unexpected direction which leads to a great and consistent conclusion. The cinematography intensely explores the color schemes very well and the effects are simple but stunning. This is one of the absolute best Thai horror films ever released and deserves to be on every horror fans watch list.

    4. Ghost of Mae Nak (2005)
    Not Rated ; Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A young couple reawaken the spirit of a famous old Thai legend.

    Ghost of Mae Nak is a pretty straightforward horror movie using the ghost and curse tropes effectively. It’s got a creepy atmosphere and has a bit of mystery and thriller added in to make a well rounded movie. I saw this as part of the Tartan Asia Extreme series and it’s one of my favorite films from Thailand. It has one of the best death scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie, which makes it worth watching in my eyes.

    3. See prang aka Phobia or 4bia (2008)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery / Drama – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A Horror Anthology featuring four different short stories. Some spoilers ahead.

    The first segment, “Happiness” is about a lonely girl who corresponded with a stranger over hand phone text messaging and soon discovered something strange about this new stranger that she is attracted to. “Tit For Tat” spun a tale of black magic and vengeance for a school kid that had been bullied by a school gang. “In The Middle” – a group of friends faced one of their worst camping trip after water kayaking accident. The final segment “Last Fright” takes horror to new heights with a psychological thriller that involves a stewardess flying solo in a cabin with a dead body. 4Bia is a great anthology of Thai horror and the brief descriptions of all four segments should have you intrigued and eager to watch this film. Not for the feint of heart in my opinion.

    2. Cheuuat gaawn chim aka Meat Grinder (2009)
    TV-14 ; Horror – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A poverty stricken woman starts a restaurant where she slaughters people and serves up human flesh, cut from her victims.

    This will likely be the only TV-14 movie on any of my lists. Meat Grinder is a very gory movie in which bodily dismemberment and death play major roles, but this is only part of the movie. In many ways, Meat Grinder is more of a psychological horror film, exploring one woman’s mental disintegration when faced with infidelity and violence. You could take out all the blood and guts and the film would be just as effective; it works best as a character study rather than a movie that just goes out of its way to nauseate. This film has drawn comparisons to the Chinese film Dumplings, and with good reason. Both are disgusting watches for those who like gore and psychological horror films.

    1. Khon len khong aka Art of the Devil (2004)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: Boom, pregnant from an affair, is told by her lover to leave him and his family alone. Enraged, she goes to a witch doctor and has him use black magic against her ex-lover and his family.

    Art of the Devil is one hell of a revenge story. It’s a terrifying ride from start to finish and it all comes full circle, like all things with magic do. There are two sequels to this film and I cannot recommend them all highly enough. One of the best Thai horror films ever made, the original Art of the Devil just sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until the credits roll. When all is said and done, learn something from this film. Don’t mess with the dark arts.

    We’ve got one final trip to make, so let me take you to South Korea. Home to my absolute favorite horror films ever made. The Koreans make horror films like the Italians make fine wine. There is just something amazing about the way they approach horror and the stories they tell are far and above any other countries films that I have seen. Of course, this is entirely my opinion. If the choices I present to you intrigue you, do yourself the favor of checking them out yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

    5. Chello hongmijoo ilga salinsagan aka Cello (2005)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A cellist is haunted by strange events after a car wreck.

    We’re starting the South Korean trip with the twisting and turning tale that is Cello. I could go into more of what the synopsis says, but that would be spoiling the movie for you and I am not about to do that. Cello can be confusing at times, if you’re not paying attention, but the story is well paced and it takes you on a ride that has you questioning exactly what is real and what isn’t. There is little doubt in my mind that Cello is one of the creepiest movies to come out of South Korea.

    4. Busanhaeng aka Train to Busan (2016)
    Not Rated ; Action / Horror / Thriller – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

    I’m sure that the majority of horror fans have heard of this film. Train to Busan, and it’s sequel Peninsula, are two of the best zombie movies ever made. Zombies alone are terrifying but add to it the claustrophobia of confined areas and few choices for survival. This gives you an atmosphere of dread that may only be rivaled by the older episodes of The Walking Dead or the french film The Night Eats the World. There is plenty of action and zombie violence to sate your dark hunger.

    3. Seuseung-ui eunhye aka Bloody Reunion (2006)
    Not Rated ; Horror / Mystery / Thriller – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A group of South Korean former class mates are invited to a reunion in a nice cottage located in the countryside. Mrs. Park, an old teacher from elementary school, who happens to be very ill and crippled, wants to see her favorite students reunited once again. Buried grudges have disastrous consequences for this class reunion.

    With a nod to old school slasher films like Friday the 13th comes Bloody Reunion. We’re leaving the ghosts, ghouls and zombies behind on this one and giving you a gut punch of violence and twisted revenge that will leave you to wonder who the real villain is. There is one scene in particular that may truly disturb audiences, involving razor blades, but I won’t spoil what happens. Like most South Korean horror flicks, there are several twists, turns and false reveals. You just have to watch this movie for yourself to find everything out. It is definitely not for those with weak constitutions.

    2. Janghwa, Hongryeon  aka A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
    Rated R ; Drama / Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Synopsis: A young woman who, after spending time in a mental institution, returns to the home of her sister, father and cruel stepmother. Once there, in addition to dealing with their stepmother’s obsessive and unbalanced ways, an interfering ghost affects her recovery.

    A Tale of Two Sisters, not to be confused with the American remake entitled The Uninvited, is the gold standard when it comes to South Korean horror. You have a story centered around two sisters, one fresh out of a mental institution, trying to live in harmony with a family that is very strained and broken. When I first saw this movie, I did not see the twists coming and man do they come at you. Just when you think you’ve figured out what is truly going on in this movie, you’re thrown for a loop and left wondering what you missed. A Tale of Two Sisters starts really slow, so if you’re in a hurry to see ghosts in the first 20 minutes you will be disappointed. Actually this is not a ghost story –though there are some. It’s something more complex, and it’s done in such a way that it beats Ringu and The Grudge out of the ring no sweat. Tale is a way more clever film than those huge cultural hits, because it really cares for its characters, and the direction is flawless. Every detail in this film will leave you breathless if you’re the kind of person who loves to pay attention to details while watching a movie. Grab some popcorn and a soda, or whatever you drink, and enjoy this beautiful tale with all the lights off.

    1. Yeogo Goedam aka The Whispering Corridors Saga (1998-2009)
    Rated R ; Drama / Horror / Mystery – Asian Horror

    Whispering Corridors tells tales of terror and mystery from different All-girls schools throughout South Korea.

    We’re finishing off our trip to South Korea with the five-film saga known as Whispering Corridors. This series of films are my personal favorites from South Korea and while I love all the films on this list, these five just speak to me differently. In this saga we have Whispering Corridors (1998), Memento Mori (1999), Wishing Stairs (2003), Voice (2005) and A Blood Pledge: Broken Promise (2009). There are a lot of subtle moments and hints throughout each film, so pay close attention. You may miss something that explains a good part of what is going on.

    I’ll give a brief synopsis for each film here before we finish our tour today.

    Whispering Corridors: While investigating the school files, the frightened teacher Mrs. Park startles and calls the young teacher Eun-young Hur, telling her that the deceased Jin-ju Jang is back. The line dies…

    Memento Mori: In this second installment of the Whispering Corridors series, a young girl finds a strange diary, capable of arousing hallucinations, kept by two of her senior fellow-students who seem to have an unusually close bond.

    Wishing Stairs: A staircase leading to the dormitory of a remote boarding school usually has 28 stairs, but every so often there appears to be 29. When someone steps on the mysterious extra stair, the horror begins.

    Voice: While training after hours in her high-school, the aspiring singer Park Young-Eon is mysteriously killed and her body vanishes. Her ghost is invisible and trapped in the school, but her best friend Kang Sun-min, who broadcasts at lunchtime in school, is able to hear her voice.

    A Blood Pledge: Four friends make an oath sworn in blood to commit suicide one night, but the next morning only one is found lying dead on the school grounds .

    I want to thank you all for taking this long ride with me today. I’m sure a lot of you weren’t expecting what you got, but I hope that you enjoyed our trip around four of the best countries for Horror in the world. If you need to, take a moment to relax and think. I know there is a lot here to digest. There is no one film on this list that screams to be viewed, they all should be, and I hope everyone who made it through our trip does just that. Until next time my friends.