~posted by David H.
In 2002, the Hollywood film The Ring, starring Naomi Watts and directed by Gore Verbinski, opened to excellent box office, becoming a surprise hit. Though few were aware of it, The Ring was a remake of a Japanese film called Ringu (1998) that had been making a stir among horror fans. The success of The Ring started a wave of Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films, most of them inferior to the originals. Luckily, the box office success of the remakes meant the originals became available on home video where they’ve been scaring viewers ever since.
While it wasn’t until Ringu that most Americans discovered Asian horror, the genre had been alive and well there for many years. Beautiful black and white ghost stories like Kuroneko (1968) told of revenge from beyond the grave, often by women wronged by evil men. The film Onibaba (1964) reversed the idea with two poor women surviving by luring samurai to their deaths in the tall grass fields where they live. Based on Japanese folklore, Kwaidan (1964) told stories about ghosts and demons with stunning Technicolor visuals. Also in eye-popping color, the horror-comedy House (1977) tells of Japanese school girls who find the house they’re staying at wants to eat them. One of the most deranged horror films ever, House features flying severed heads, a J-pop musical number, and a hungry piano that devours one of the students.
The success of Ringu in Japan and South Korea led to a new interest in the horror genre. Starting like a romantic comedy then descending into horror, the film Audition (1999) is a disturbing classic. In it a lonely bachelor, convinced by a friend to audition a series of women to be his girlfriend, finds the woman of his dreams harbors nightmarish secrets. The finale, where a new use for acupuncture needles is found, will make even hardened horror fans squirm. On the ghostly side, Juon (2002) tells a set of interlocking stories about a cursed house that affects anyone who enters it. Badly remade as The Grudge (2004), the original captures the feeling of a nightmare where no matter how far you run, the monster is always right behind you.
Though South Korea made its share of Ringu knock-offs, the best of their horror films are often very different. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is a dark fairy tale about two sisters who, living with their father and cruel stepmother, find themselves haunted by a ghost. But nothing is what it seems and the sisters may not be as innocent as they believe. Set during the Vietnam War, Ghosts of War (2004) follows a troop of soldiers sent to rescue an embattled patrol at a mysterious location. But when they arrive, no one is there and leaving may not be possible. Finally, Antarctic Journal (2005) chronicles an expedition into the Antarctic that begins to slowly succumb to insanity. But is that insanity coming from the men themselves or from something hidden in the snow?