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The opening decade of the 21st century has proven to be a memorable one for the East Asian horror industry, which has emerged as one of the best (if not the best) sources of horror in the world in terms of both quality and creativity. For those who have grown tired of the mainstream American formula, there is much to enjoy when one explores the cinema of Japan and South Korea. In a general sense, their characteristics are definitively anti-Hollywood in the following ways:
1. Omnipresence of weird concepts and themes.
2. Atmosphere is of high priority.
3. Psychological and philosophical concepts are ubiquitous.
4. Mature, reserved protagonists are frequently used instead of sex-crazed, drug-addicted teenagers.
5. Ambiguity is frequently present.
6. Long-sustained, creepy images are used more often than jump scares.
7. Pacing is deliberate, even glacial.
For viewers who hold these traits in high regard, East Asian horror (which also includes the industries of China, Thailand, and Indonesia) is a virtual treasure trove of entertainment that explores far beyond the onryo mythos (i.e. ghost girls with long black hair) to provide a wide spectrum of interesting themes, concepts, and styles that are frequently ignored by many critics and/or viewers who mistakenly extrapolate the onryo mythos to the entire industry.
What follows is my personal Top 50 list of East Asian horror films released between 2000 and 2009. I have intentionally written very short mini-reviews because the viewer would be best served to watch these films with the least amount of knowledge possible in order to maximize their impact. Now, it is important to note that I have not seen every single East Asian horror film released during the past decade (and some are not yet available on dvd or even online), so the reader should understand that this list is based upon an incomplete data set.
As with the compilation of any list, the limitation of 50 titles will undoubtedly leave out certain films that deserve recognition for their quality and/or entertainment value, or include certain films that are not generally considered to be amongst the upper echelon of the genre. This is ultimately a subjective endeavor, of course, so differences between personal taste and critical or popular opinion is expected. However, I do hope that it provides a nice representation of what 21st Century East Asian horror has to offer.
Note: The designation “China” refers to all Chinese movies irregardless of whether they were made in Hong Kong, the Mainland, or other surrounding islands. If they predominantly star Chinese actors, have Chinese directors, and use Cantonese or Mandarin as their main language, then that’s the description I chose to give.
Special Mention: One recently seen film that likely belongs in the Top 25 (but was excluded due to time restrictions).
Macabre (aka Darah) (2009, Indonesia)
A group of friends help a young woman by giving her a ride to her home, but things get nasty when her family turns out to be homicidal maniacs. There’s nothing new here, but in this genre it’s the execution that counts and in this film there’s a healthy dose of gritty, nasty, bloody violence and gore to keep most horror fans satisfied. After the brief setup this is a non-stop mix of suspense and bloodshed. The antagonists are quiet, intelligent, menacing killers who calculate and go about their business with a twisted calmness. There are a few bone-headed decisions, but not nearly enough to detract from the positives. Julie Estelle also contributes the best performance of her young career. The viewer is strongly recommended to check that one out.
Proceed to page 2 (numbers below) to begin the countdown…