For a good part of the last decade much of Hollywood devoted itself to cranking out remakes or adaptations of successful Asian horror films less well known on our own shores. Prompted by the success of “The Ring” starring Naomi Watts in 2002 – Gore Verbenski’s remake of Japan’s highest grossing horror film to date, the 1998 film “Ringu” — the marketplace was flooded with Americanized versions of East Asian flicks. Unfortunately for Hollywood, their attempts to cash in on this trend proved wildly uneven and produced far lower box office revenue than was anticipated.
Thus the flood of remakes dribbled to a slow leak. One trouble with these movies was that filmmakers on this side of the Pacific seemed to (wrongly) think that American audiences wouldn’t understand the subtleties and symbolism that permeate Asian horror. They replaced creeping tension with jump scares and offered slam-bang CGI instead of psychological shudders, and so ended up stripping their scripts of the very elements that made the originals work so well. But even a truckload of visual effects and a hot Hollywood actress in the lead can’t save scripts that lack true chills at their heart.
American remakes of Asian horror films tend to be overly explanatory, and usually resolve according to traditional Hollywood standards: with most of their plot threads tied up neatly at the end. Such ready explanations do not always exist in the Asian horror originals, where plots are often a lot more complex and sometimes told in a non-linear fashion, thus making those films all the more fascinating to unravel.
With endings that can be interpreted in multiple ways and containing cultural themes or ideas outside of our more familiar Hollywood horror standards, Asian horror challenges its viewers to pay attention and use their brains to try to figure out the plot twists and turns for themselves. This results in a much more involved movie experience than what the majority of the remakes provide.
The wise horror fan knows to avoid those carbon-copy American remakes and head straight for the originals. It really doesn’t take much effort beyond accepting the idea of subtitles in order to “get” Asian horror. “Ju-On” (2002, Japan), “The Echo” (2004, Philippines), “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003, South Korea) and “Pulse” (2001, Japan), are all are excellent and incredibly scary films that deserve a worldwide audience.
But beyond the obvious first selections, there exists a slew of other fantastic Asian horror flicks out there that luckily Hollywood hasn’t touched yet. “Audition” (1998, Japan), “Infection (2004, Japan), and “The Maid” (2005, Philippines) quickly come to mind as offering first-rate scares and/or psychological shudders aplenty. The Internet abounds with lists of dozens of really excellent Asian horror flicks that American fans may not have seen, but would greatly enjoy. I invite horror fans who may not be familiar with these films to take a look, it’s definitely worth it!
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