Chinese Horror Films
While the cinema of mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan can offer differ both in content and quality, this article lumps them all together in an overarching attempt to bring you some of the best Chinese horror films in recent years. So the next time you visit Amazon or log onto Netflix or GreenCine, be sure to give these foreign chillers a look. Not only will you be surprised by the production values and overall presentation, but you may also find a whole new world of cinema opened up to you.
- The Eye (2002) - The Pang brothers (Danny and Oxide) deliver this dreamlike tale of a blind violinist (Angelica Lee) who gets a new set of eyes from a donor. She’s thrilled, of course, at least until she starts seeing shadowy figures who signal impending death. This leads her on a trip to Thailand, where the history of her tragic donor is revealed. Like most Asian films, spirits are involved, but this one is low on gore and high on suspense. The Eye was a success at the international box office, and it led to two sequels and remakes from both Bollywood and Hollywood.
- The Eye 2 (2004) - The Pang brothers direct the sequel to their eerie hit film, although the characters are entirely different this time around. Shu Qi (The Transporter) stars as Joey Cheng, an emotionally fragile woman who attempts suicide following problems with her boyfriend, Sam (Jesdaporn Pholdee). After surviving an overdose of pills, Joey learns that she’s pregnant with Sam’s baby. That’s when things detour into the realm of horror, as she begins seeing the spirits of the dead hovering around pregnant women. Throw in a ghostly stalker, and Joey is soon pushed to the boundaries of sanity. The next film in the series, The Eye 10, gives a helpful rundown of the ten ways a living being can sense ghosts.
- Re-Cycle (2006) - Four years after the success of The Eye, the Pang brothers reunite with actress Angelica Lee for the tale of a novelist struggling to write her next book. After deleting the first chapter in disgust, she soon finds herself in an alternate universe reserved for anything discarded, including ideas, trash, and even aborted babies. Numerous genres are mixed in, the CGI effects heighten the on-screen terror, and the tempo is without mercy. It’s too bad that Twilight author Stephenie Meyer didn’t wind up in such a place, but she’d have to delete something first.
- The Seventh Curse (1986) - While a number of Chinese horror films follow more traditional lines, there are also those that blend genres to the point of being downright bizarre. Case in point: The Seventh Curse, a film about a heroic cop who rescues a girl from her sinister Thai tribe and becomes cursed for it. Infected with the seven “Blood Curses,” he only has one year to live before dying in excruciating agony. Luckily, he’s got a number of capable friends--including Maggie Cheung and Chow Yun-fat--so it’s back to Thailand in search of a permanent cure. This leads to a showdown with the Worm Tribe, a battle with a blue-eyed skeleton, and the appearance of a deadly alien that looks suspiciously like a baby. While it’s silly in places, the presence of icons such as Yun-fat and Cheung make The Seventh Curse a recommended diversion.
- Diary (2006) - Another film from the Oxide brothers, Diary allows Chinese pop star and sex symbol Charlene Choi to demonstrate her increasing range as an actress. She plays Winnie Leung, a sad young woman who spends her days writing in her diary and waiting for boyfriend Seth to come home. When Seth dies in a car accident, she takes up with a man who looks exactly like him (Shawn Yue). But as the simmering plot begins to come to a boil, we’re left wondering what really happened to Seth and what the hell is wrong with Winnie. A well-written film about the fragile state of the human mind, Diary will keep you guessing until the end with its numerous twists and turns.
- We're Going to Eat You (1980) - A wacky combination of comedy, kung-fu, and horror, We’re Going to Eat You follows a secret agent numbered 999 (Norman Chu) as he pursues a thief named Rolex (Melvin Wong). When their chase leads to a village, it’s learned that the locals routinely feast on passing strangers. This results in a number of action sequences, not to mention a little romance between 999 and a woman he meets along the way. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but the strange melding of genres should keep your attention for the entire 92-minute runtime.
- A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) - Based on a short story from the Qing Dynasty, this combination romance/horror film racked up 12 nominations at the Hong Kong film awards. The late Leslie Cheung stars as a mild-mannered tax collector who falls in love with a spirit (Joey Wong) after being forced to spend the night in an abandoned temple. Resolving to save his true love’s soul from the underworld, he seeks out the aid of a heroic priest (Wu Ma). The success of A Chinese Ghost Story led to numerous spirit-based Hong Kong tales, rocketed Cheung to stardom, and made an impact as far as Japan and South Korea. Two sequels and several adaptations would follow.
- Abnormal Beauty (2004) - I realize that this list of Chinese horror films might well be titled “The Movies of Oxide Pang,” but the prolific director just can’t be ignored when it comes to Asian tales of terror. In Abnormal Beauty, Race Wong stars as Jiney, a photography student who becomes obsessed with capturing the moment of death via her lens. Another Pang film that builds slowly, but the last half hour delivers a powerful and chilling climax. Race, a member of Cantopop group 2R, is also joined by fellow bandmate Rosanne Wong (who plays her best friend in the film).
As you can see, not all Chinese films involve kung-fu or Chow Yun-fat firing off pistols in slow-motion. Chinese horror films bring a unique perspective to the horror genre, often drawing from the depths of their culture to create a rich tapestry dotted with malevolent spirits and mental illness. Give them a try the next time you’re feeling adventurous.