Chan-Wook Park, Hideo Nakata, the Pang Bros - Asia certainly seems to be at the heart of horror at the moment, so what better time for the Top Ten Asian Extreme films of recent years, including films from Japan, HK, Thailand and Korea.
10 .Junk (2000) Country: Japan
Coming off like an Asian version of Zombi 3 (or Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 if you will), Junk has everything going for it. A bunch of villains meet at an abandoned warehouse after a heist only to find it not so abandoned after all – nobody lives there except plenty of dead people. This movie makes you make a mental note to never have a machine gun shoot out with a rival gang over a bunch of dead bodies lying next to a shelf filled with mysterious glowing goo. Famous for the scene when a SWAT guy takes down a whole corridor of zombies by holding his M16 at shoulder height (head shots aplenty) and having the hottest female zombie since Return of the Living Dead III, this baby is a must see for all zombie across the globe.
9 .A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) Country: Sth Korea
The first of only two Korean films on the list, A Tale of Two Sisters is a masterpiece of spooky ghost story telling. Beautifully filmed, Kim Jee-woon’s atmospheric chiller follows the tale of two sisters (funny that!) who return to stay with their father and stepmother after recently spending time in a nearby hospital. But after staying the first few nights in the house, the sisters soon begin to realise the house is very probably haunted and could be hiding some sinister secrets amongst its shadows. Ably creating a true sense of horror, this film is high-class art suspense at it’s best, with at least three literal ‘jump out of your seat’ ghost moments, including that special ‘girl under the sink’ shock reveal that comes from nowhere.
8 .Ichi the Killer (2001) Country: Japan, Hong Kong, Sth Korea
You can’t have a Top Ten Asian Extreme list without at least one film from Takeshi Miike, so why not plum for Miike at his most gloriously cartoonish extreme. Adapting the film from the famous Manga comic, Ichi The Killer follows the adventures of a mad assassin with razor-sharp boots and his involvement with sick psycho-gangster Kakihara and his over-extended smile. Mixing outlandish humour with tenderness (Ichi is very almost a sad and sympathetic character), this film features sawn-off faces, needles through the jaw, sliced nipples, burning oil on skin, tongue-trimming and torso-hacking, and is probably the most twisted, grossest, sickest, black humour anti-super-hero film on the market. Strong stomachs required.
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7 .Wild Zero (2000) Country: Japan
Without a doubt, Wild Zero is one of the wildest rock’n’roll Asian ‘b’ movie zombie films you’ll ever see in your lifetime. The plot is simple – Japanese Rock’n’Roll group Guitar Wolf (featuring Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf) fight off hordes of alien-invading zombies with the help of their number one fan in an effort to save the world. Featuring lots of great head explosions, cracking cult dialogue, songs to rock your block off to, and much much more, Wild Zero is the zombie party film to end all zombie parties. It’s a terrible shame to hear that Bass Wolf recently died prematurely, especially as the band were convinced that this film was not fiction, but in fact, reality. RIP Bass Wolf – “Lock’n’Loll!”
6 .Audition (1997) Country: Japan
Watch out – it’s that man Takeshi Miike again. Audition belies it’s dark heart by opening with a light and romantic, almost naïve tone, but this date movie feel doesn’t last long. Oh no. Shigeharu, a retired film producer auditions women looking for his perfect partner, until he sees, and falls in love with, Asami (played in suitably creepy fashion by Eihi Shiina). Of course, this isn’t your standard boy meets girl, boy falls in love story, and things soon take a third exit turn-off to Darksville. Towards the end, if you can really endure it, we’re exposed to plenty of psychotic gut-wrenching shock horror including hydrochloric acid, hypodermic needles, samurai-sword whooshes and much puncturing, peeling and infecting of flesh. Lovely.
5 .Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) Country: Japan
Offering a variant spin on the earlier Ringu, Ju-on: the Grudge is one of the better Ringu imitations. Replacing the video cassette with a house that contains the vengeful spirit of a murdered mother and child, the scares and jolts come from extremely effective direction. Most Japanese horror elements are present and correct (female ghosts, long black hair, pale skin, cursed objects) and Yuya Ozeki is brilliant as Toshio, the sad and frightening boy / wide-eyed ghost. Writer/director Takashi Shimizu later went on to remake the film for US audiences under Sam Raimi, but it’s the original that remains (just) the better film, with a brutal opening sequence and a far more naturalistic and claustrophobic feel.
4 .The Eye (Jian gui) (2002) Country: Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, UK
This effective Hong Kong chiller is perhaps one of the scariest films of recent years. It’s the concept that does it - young girl receives eye transplant and begins seeing ghosts that no-one else can – that makes it so seat-clenchingly terrifying. It all starts off so low-key, building a subtle level of menace and unease that by the time the girl in the calligraphic school hurls herself across the room mid-way through the movie you’ll be ten feet in the air in terror. It perhaps descends into routine Ring territory towards the end, but the final reveal from the coach seat is a true shocker, and definitely worth seeing – just make sure to watch it with your own eyes.
3 .Battle Royale (2000) Country: Japan
When Battle Royale was released, it caused an uproar in the west. The concept – take 42 school children to an island and watch them blow themselves away – was never going to sit happily beside the certification bodies, especially post-Columbine (it’s still unavailable in the US, although that’s more down to distribution deals gone awry than an outright ban), which is a shame as Battle Royale is one of the most thought-provoking films about a devalued society ever made. From the opening scene of a victorious (almost murderously gleeful) young and bloodied girl, the film does not let up for one second, treating us to Beat Takeshi’s amoral school teacher and introducing us to the supremely sexy Chiaki Kuriyama as seen in Kill Bill Vol. 1 along the way. Still as hard-hitting today as it was at the turn of the millennium.
Buy 2-disc Special Edition of Battle Royale from amazon.co.uk
2 .Oldboy (2003) Country: Sth Korea
It was a toss-up between this and Chan-Wook Park’s other revenge film Sympathy For Mr Vengeance to make this list, but in the end Oldboy clinched it as it is a much more polished and effective shocker. The film grabs you by the scruff of the neck and refuses to let go as we follow Oh Dae-su, who is kidnapped one night, held in a room for 15 years, before being released with a suitcase of money and mission to find out who kidnapped him, and more importantly, why. Featuring dental work a la claw hammer, a one-take corridor knife fight, and live octopus-eating, it’s certainly not for the squeamish, but if you make it to the end, you’re in for one of the most spine-tingling, hair-raising revelations in cinema history that simply turns the whole film on its head. Intelligent, funny, dark and tragic, Oldboy? Yeah, boy!
1 .Ring (1998) Country: Japan
But top of list must surely go to Hideo Nakata’s Ring - the highest grossing horror in Japanese history, not necessarily because it is the most extreme film on the list, but because of the influence this film has had, not only in Asia, but worldwide. Based on Suzuki Koji's novel, the film spawned at least 6 other movies at the last count (Japanese sequels, Korean and US remakes, and others), a TV series and countless imitation copies. Not to be confused with the lesser known Rasen, which used the same source material and was released at the same time, Ring tells the simple yet effectively scary story of a reporter who becomes drawn into an urban legend of a video tape that kills whoever who watches it seven days later. Well-plotted and beautifully performed, Ring will always live on visually, not only for the genuinely creepy video footage on the tape itself, but for the moment when Sadaka climbs right out of the TV set and into your room, setting up a new horror icon whilst simultaneously becoming the defining 90s moment for worldwide horror.
Buy Ring (or Ringu as it's known over here) from amazon.co.uk