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HORROR AND CULT EAST ASIAN CINEMA (2011)

Guest editor of Asian Cinema journal

Volume 22, Issue 1 (2011)

I sourced and edited 12 essays from leading horror and cult cinema scholars who were at the time, working in, or had studied in the UK. Each scholar then produced an essay, which ranged across the international production, distribution and circulation of horror and cult cinema in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and South Korea, from the 1960s - 2000s.

 

This special issue sheds light on some little known films from this period, produces new insights into the marketing and distribution of established East Asian "auteurs" such as Miike Takashi, and provides a fascinating snapshot into the issues, theories and approaches of horror studies in the first decade of the new millennium.

 

Image opposite taken from Shutter (2004, Thailand).

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Dracula’s Eastern Legacy: Japanese Vampire Films of the 1970s
Author: Peter Hutchings
Page: 10-19

This paper explores three Japanese vampire films directed by Michio Yamamoto for Toho Studios, Chi o suu ningyo (Legacy of Dracula 1970), Chio suu me (Lake of Dracula 1971), and Chi o suu bara (Evil of Dracula 1974). These films raise interesting issues about the international nature of horror production during this period, and, in particular, the ways in which Japanese cinema incorporates generic conventions developed in the West. The paper identifies indeterminate qualities within the films and argues that this makes it difficult to place them definitively within either a national or an international context. It is suggested that accounts of horror would benefit from taking fuller account of the playful, improvisatory elements evident not just within Yamamoto’s work but more widely in the genre.

2. Painted Skin : Negotiating Mainland China’s Fear of the Supernatural
Author: Andy Willis
Page: 20-30

Following Hong Kong’s reunification with China in 1997, it became a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR). This meant that Hong Kong filmmakers now had wider access to distribution and co-production deals with the mainland. In this article, through a case study of the 2008 film, Painted Skin, I consider how the makers of a supernaturally based work have negotiated these industrial changes within their film, in particular, the stricter censorship laws in operation on the mainland. The article argues that while Painted Skin is adapted from a familiar source and in a long tradition of Hong Kong horror films, the historically specific set of circumstances operating around its production and release reveal how central this historical specificity is to any understanding of it as a contemporary Hong Kong horror film.

3. Tracing Tradition in Korean Horror Film
Author: Alison Peirse
Page: 31-44

What makes a Korean horror film Korean? Relatively little has been published to date in English on this topic, and what has been discussed frequently concentrates on Korean horror film’s renaissance at the millennial fin-de-siècle. This paper considers the inception of the horror genre in 1960s’ Korean cinema through a detailed case study of A Devilish Murder (Salinma 1965, dir. Lee Yong-min). By returning to the 1960s, a specific strand of Korean horror cinema can be traced, one created through associations between modernity, changing ideas of domestic space, and gendered relationships on one hand, and cinematic techniques predicated upon melodrama and flashbacks on the other.

4. Contemporary Thai Horror: The Horrific Incarnation of Shutter
Author: Mary Ainslie
Page: 45-57

This article explores the creation, discourses, and distribution of the 2004 New Thai horror film Shutter. A high-grossing film nationally and internationally, Shutter is based in Bangkok and follows a story of supernatural revenge by the spirit of a young upcountry woman who returns to wreak vengeance upon the men and former boyfriend who abused her in life. While considered by Bangkok fans to be the “best” Thai horror ever and “the only genuinely scary Thai movie,” this paper will argue that Shutter ironically signalled a deliberate departure from traditional Thai horror aesthetics and narrative structure. Instead, shaped in favor of a pan-Asian “look” and appeal and one familiar to non-Thai viewers (through films such as Ringu, etc.), it thereby paradoxically achieved success as a “Thai film” while erasing many cultural specificities of Thai cinema. Significantly, its 2008 Hollywood remake was set in Japan starring American actors. This paper explores the ramifications of such redesigning to both the Thainess of Shutter’s subject matter and its wider social implications.

5. Flesh and Blood: The Guinea Pig Films
Author: Colette Balmain
Page: 58-69

The Japanese V-Cinema Guinea Pig (Za Ginipiggu) series (1985-1988) are often seen by critics such as Sharp, as indicative of the worse excesses of Japanese cinema. Given the nature of the films and their limited availability, it is not surprising that there has been little critical discussion of the series. Existing critical approaches are sharply split between those critics who seek to legitimize the films as contesting the dominant ideology of Japanese national cinema at the time (McRoy, 2008: 15-47) and/or in terms of cinematic technique (Hunter, 1998: 143-150), and those that interpret the films in much the same way as Sharp does (Galloway, 2006: 178). The purpose of this paper is to interrogate the gender politics of the Guinea Pig films as it is the female body -- more often than not -- that is clinically dissected, violated, and exploited for the [male] gaze in the Guinea Pig series. Secondly, the paper considers how the mechanics by the Guinea Pig films are marketed in the West as in opposition to the mainstream in order to anchor their “underground” and “cult” status at a time when Asian cinema had been branded as “Extreme.”

6. Disavowing The Isle : Masochism and New Extremity
Author: Beth Johnson
Page: 70-82

This article undertakes a thematic and aesthetic analysis of The Isle (Seom 2002, dir. Kim Ki-duk) and conceptualizes the theme of disavowal in association with UK audience expectations of popular and “extreme” Asian cinema. In addition, this work also seeks to reframe Kim beyond Asia extreme in a framework around intimacy and pain more akin to European extreme cinema. Via close reading, the complex representations of brutal intimacy found in this film can, I argue, be understood in-line with the Korean concept of “han,” marginality, and masochism. Considering formal and stylistic ellipses within the text, I argue that The Isle opens up a space for audiences to consider what is disavowed, unseen, and unsaid in Kim’s work.

7. ​Transnational, Transgeneric, Transgressive: Tracing Miike Takashi’s Yakuza Cyborgs to Sukiyaki Westerns
Author: Steve Rawle
Page: 83-98

This paper explores the transnationalism of Miike Takashi’s approach to film genres. Film genre has often been held as a stabilizing and internationalizing paradigm of film production, distribution, and reception, likewise with the increasingly transnational focus of Miike’s work that has accompanied his growing notoriety and fame with critics and cineastes, predominantly those outside Japan, where his fame is marginal. The paper also explores ways in which Miike’s transnational approach to genre problematizes and intervenes in transnational cinematic struggles by offering challenges to existing and homogenizing structures of genre and language. By looking at Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) as the definitive example of Miike’s transcultural generic work, the argument will examine the role of “gatekeeper auteurs” such as Tarantino and Eli Roth, in establishing Miike as the nomadic figure in world cinema.

8. The Good, the Bad, and the Culturally Inauthentic: The Strange Case of the “Asian Western
Author: Leon Hunt
Page: 99-109

When The Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah talai jone 2000, dir. Wisit Sasanatieng) was reviewed in Sight and Sound, reviewer Edward Buscombe expressed surprise at the existence of a Thai Western and concluded that the film was “ultimately, about nothing at all.” Such debates had already been well rehearsed around Italian Westerns, the paradigmatic “inauthentic” adaptation of an “authentic” genre. Asian cinema’s connection to the Western can be traced back to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, which was reworked across diverse genres, including the Western. Two further “Asian Westerns” have been distributed internationally more recently, Sukiyaki Western Django (Sukiyaki Uesutan Jango 2007, dir. Miike Takashi) and The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheun nom nabbeun nom isanghan nom 2008, dir. Kim Ji-woon). While individual films have unmistakeable local resonances “lost” Thai cinema, South Korea’s Manchurian action films of the 1960s, the interplay between Japanese chanbara and the Western -- the common transcultural referent is not the American Western, but the Italian one. This paper examines the relationship between the “Asian” and Italian Western, and considers how the latter might inform the transnational ambitions of the former.

9. Importing Genre, Exporting Cult: The Japanese Zom-Com
Author: Leung Wing-Fai
Page: 110-121

This article argues that the Japanese zom-com, with Wild Zero (2001, dir. Takeuchi Tetsuro) and Tokyo Zombie (Tokyo Zonbi 2005, dir. Sato Sakichi) as examples, is the result of cultural borrowing from American popular culture and an eclectic mix of generic influences. The zom-com films from Japan rarely reference traditional folklore that has been a central source in the history of Japanese horror cinema. Instead, the current discussion considers the two films alongside the zombie canon, and explores how they exist as transnational cult that can be understood through the academic discourse on taste and distinction. In the age of global production and consumption, differences are minimized in these films’ “imageries of Japan” and the producers’ marketing, rendering them familiar trash and engendering their cult status. The article concludes that it is the trans-cultural quality of these Japanese films rather than “the dead that walk” which underpins them as cult movies.

10. The Shaw Brothers Meet Hammer: Coproduction, Coherence, and Cult Film Criteria
Authors: Gary Bettinson
Page: 122-137

During the 1970s, Shaw Brothers and Hammer Films sought to blend kung fu spectacle with traditional genres. The fruits of this endeavor The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires and Shatter, both 1974 were castigated by mainstream critics as idiosyncratic and incoherent. The films’ appropriation by cult audiences, however, is predicated on precisely their purported incoherence. This essay argues that incoherence constitutes a tacit and under-theorized criterion for cult movies, and insofar as it is conceived as a homogenous phenomenon, tends to offer an uninformative barometer of a cult film’s value. In contrast, I propose several levels of coherence, the better to specify the cult film’s unities and disunities across a range of dimensions. Centrally, I explore the alleged incoherence forged by fusing kung fu with the norms of horror (Legend) and crime thriller (Shatter). Arguing that both films obey canonized principles of storytelling, I go on to examine the effects that their apparent incoherence has upon the viewer’s experience. The paper also points toward the relevance of transnational coproduction for grasping both the viewer’s activity and the critical neglect of coherence in the Shaws-Hammer movies.

11. Categorizing Cult: The Reputation and Reception of Save the Green Planet!
Author: Daniel Martin
Page: 138-149

This article examines the international release of the South Korean film Save the Green Planet! and argues that this is an example of a film whose cult reputation was pre-sold to audiences on the basis of constructed associations between Korean cinema and excessive violence. This article also considers the divided critical reception of Save the Green Planet! as experts from different fields argued over the value and meaning of the film.

12. Afterword
Authors: Jinhee Choi
Page: 150-151

Many essays in this volume attempt to emphasize how the significance of a horror and/cult film does not and should not limit itself to its heuristic, epistemic value; in other words, as a vehicle to “learn“ about that culture and nation-state. Rather, with an accumulation of enough scholarship on Asian horror films, the scope and methods can vary, not to pigeonhole films to dominant theoretical frameworks, but to provide nuanced explanations to the relationship between films and their surroundings culture, industry, fandom, and aesthetics. The essays in this volume certainly take us in that direction plurality of interest, topic, and methodology.