October 3rd -- Asian Horror

Three Extremes (2004)
Directed by Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook, and Fruit Chan

Like a stream of scary stories told by the Manson family, Three Extremes gathers together a trio of Asia’s most talented directors -- Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike, and Fruit Chan --and assembles a potent collage of starkly different styles and verbal rhythms. These directors, along with their films, share very little in common aside from one thing: recognition due their signature, bizarrely singular styles. At over two hours of lush photography and sinister motivations and grotesqueries, this is one of the more paramount onslaughts of differentiated styles that you can get encapsulated in one film -- one that’ll haunt and disturb in ways that only each director knows how to instill.

Of course, Miike’s Lynchian-esque ghost story Box and Park Chan-wook’s Cut, an exercise in thematic trap-torture cinema, are both phenomenal – I wouldn’t expect any less from the directors behind Audition and Oldboy respectfully; however, Fruit Chan’s Dumplings stood out with more resonance than it has in past viewings. Perhaps it’s because I went in expecting to see it as the weakest addition, but for some reason it really worked this time through. It blends a long stream of grotesque eating / preparing scenes of odd “health-enhancing” dumplings, while pairing it with themes revolving around society’s thirst for immortality and vanity. As the preparer of these treats, Bai Ling captures attention in much the same sinister ways that she does in The Crow and in an appearance in TV’s Lost. But, boy, watching Miriam Yeung Chin Wah consume those little, erm, disgusting treats has the same effect as it always has: indulgent, overused, but still very squirm-inducing with each bite.

Dark Water (2002)
Directed by Hideo Nakata

You know, the statement “the [insert Asian country] version is much better” has become almost cliché and unnecessary in describing some horror films. But, hey, there was a time when it wasn’t such an overdone and assumedly-horrible market, like when the English version of Dark Water, starring Jennifer Connelly, came out. Now, that doesn’t mean -- in the slightest -- that the Hollywood updated version gets anything right, which it doesn’t, but it does show a time when the comparison between originals and remakes were significant. This one’s easy: the original Dark Water, a haunting and atmospheric shot of adrenaline from director Hideo Nakata of Ringu (original Ring) and Ju-On (original The Grudge) fame, outclasses and outscares its babbling Hollywood clone in droves.

One of the strengths in Dark Water lies in its focus on a simple, everyday device for scares. Strangely, I’m not referring to the water trickling from the ceiling; I’m actually concentrating on the usage of a bright red backpack as the sole indicator that supernatural forces are present in the narrative. Moisture dripping from the ceiling -- even dirty water -- can be attributed to moist climates and rains, while thunderous footsteps running to-and-fro upstairs can be echoing from some other room in the focal apartment complex. However, the simple appearance of a peaceful-looking red bag continuously instills the idea of implausible, supernatural foul play engineered at tormenting the recently divorced mother-daughter duo in the story. From that mechanic, Dark Water becomes an affective reactionary tale that highlights chilling performances from both members of this haunted duo.

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Directed by Kim Ji-woon

Naturally, the best was saved for last. Korea's A Tale of Two Sisters tops my charts in the Asian horror spectrum, and sits somewhere at the top of my favored horror flicks -- period. Layers upon layers coat its conniving simplicity, themes that gravitate around child abuse, familial emotional connections, and potent usage of schizophrenia. When swirled in with a simple story of psychotic family interactions and haunted house theatrics, it becomes an exercise in visceral dread and terrifyingly maddening psychosis. There's mystery around every corner, whether it's the mental condition of the shorter-haired sister or the motives behind the aggressive Snow White step-mother figure, which keeps your gears spinning and your head guessing all the way to its fluttering plateau halfway through the film.

Once it starts to pull these pieces together in a culmination of all its engaging properties, A Tale of Two Sisters becomes much more than a work of entertainment. How Kim Ji-woon kept his story so lyrical and unnerving within such simplicity is beyond me. Perhaps it's from the suitable, perfectly-cast character performances across the board, or the ingeniously-spaced setting within beautiful set design and eerie architectural craftsmanship within the home. Wherever the true potency lies, which is hard to fully point out since it's all done so immaculately, it's easy to return to A Tale of Two Sisters with fresh eyes each and every time. Around each gorgeously-shot corner and underneath each eerily-dim piece of furniture, it gets jumps and jolts out of me no matter how many times I've soaked in its prosaic madness.


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