A Look into Asian Horror Part Four: Korean Horror
As we continue to branch out into different areas of entertainment, I have the honour of hitting on a film genre that I am absolutely in love with. If the title didn’t give it away, that genre is Horror. Personally, I feel that the art of Horror has died in the United States, dumbing the movies down to PG-13 (for freaking teenagers) or overly relying on Gore, it is very rare anymore to find a good psychological horror flick or one that seeks out to scare the ever living hell out of you.
In my thirty-six years on this earth, I’ve probably seen over a thousand different horror movies from all over the world in my quest to find something genuinely scary. Honestly speaking, it is really hard for me to get scared during a movie, I am really desensitized to the typical scares, but I can enjoy a horror movie for what it is usually.
So to start with I’m going to look at twenty different Asian horror movies, from four countries, and rank them into the top five’s for each country. I won’t give away the entirety of the movies, but I will add the synopsis for each and then give my personal take on the movies. I will avoid as many spoilers as I can, but obviously, there is a spoiler warning just in case it can’t be helped. I’ll also not go into too much detail about each movie, I am going to be talking about twenty of them after all.
We’ve got one final trip to make, so let me take you to South Korea. Home to my absolute favourite horror films ever made. The Koreans make horror films like the Italians make fine wine. There is just something amazing about the way they approach horror and the stories they tell are far and above any other countries films that I have seen. Of course, this is entirely my opinion. If the choices I present to you intrigue you, do yourself the favour of checking them out yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
#5. Chello hongmijoo ilga salinsagan aka Cello (2005) Not Rated horror/mystery
Synopsis: A cellist is haunted by strange events after a car wreck.
We’re starting the South Korean trip with the twisting and turning tale that is Cello. I could go into more of what the synopsis says, but that would be spoiling the movie for you and I am not about to do that. Cello can be confusing at times if you’re not paying attention, but the story is well paced and it takes you on a ride that has you questioning exactly what is real and what isn’t. There is little doubt in my mind that Cello is one of the creepiest movies to come out of South Korea.
#4. Busanhaeng aka Train to Busan (2016) Not Rated action/horror/thriller
Synopsis: While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
I’m sure that the majority of horror fans have heard of this film. Train to Busan, and its sequel Peninsula, are two of the best zombie movies ever made. Zombies alone are terrifying but add to it the claustrophobia of confined areas and few choices for survival. This gives you an atmosphere of dread that may only be rivalled by the older episodes of The Walking Dead or the French film The Night Eats the World. There is plenty of action and zombie violence to sate your dark hunger.
#3. Seuseung-ui eunhye aka Bloody Reunion (2006) Not Rated horror/mystery/thriller
Synopsis: A group of South Korean former classmates are invited to a reunion in a nice cottage located in the countryside. Mrs Park, an old teacher from elementary school, who happens to be very ill and crippled, wants to see her favourite students reunited once again. Buried grudges have disastrous consequences for this class reunion.
With a nod to old-school slasher films like Friday the 13th comes Bloody Reunion. We’re leaving the ghosts, ghouls and zombies behind on this one and giving you a gut punch of violence and twisted revenge that will leave you to wonder who the real villain is. There is one scene in particular that may truly disturb audiences, involving razor blades, but I won’t spoil what happens.
Like most South Korean horror flicks, there are several twists, turns and false reveals. You just have to watch this movie for yourself to find everything out. It is definitely not for those with weak constitutions.
#2. Janghwa, Hongryeon aka A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) R drama/horror/mystery
Synopsis: A young woman who, after spending time in a mental institution, returns to the home of her sister, father and cruel stepmother. Once there, in addition to dealing with their stepmother’s obsessive and unbalanced ways, an interfering ghost affects her recovery.
A Tale of Two Sisters, not to be confused with the American remake entitled The Uninvited, is the gold standard when it comes to South Korean horror. You have a story centred around two sisters, one fresh out of a mental institution, trying to live in harmony with a family that is very strained and broken.
When I first saw this movie, I did not see the twists coming and man do they come at you. Just when you think you’ve figured out what is truly going on in this movie, you’re thrown for a loop and left wondering what you missed.
A Tale of Two Sisters starts really slow, so if you’re in a hurry to see ghosts in the first 20 minutes you will be disappointed. Actually, this is not a ghost story though there are some. It’s something more complex, and it’s done in such a way that it beats Ringu and The Grudge out of the ring no sweat.
Tale is a way more clever film than those huge cultural hits, because it really cares for its characters, and the direction is flawless. Every detail in this film will leave you breathless if you’re the kind of person who loves to pay attention to details while watching a movie. Grab some popcorn and a soda, or whatever you drink, and enjoy this beautiful tale with all the lights off.
#1. Yeogo goedam aka the Whispering Corridors Saga (1998-2009) R drama/horror/mystery
Whispering Corridors tells tales of terror and mystery from different All-girls schools throughout South Korea.
We’re finishing off our trip to South Korea with the five-film saga known as Whispering Corridors. This series of films is my personal favourite from South Korea and while I love all the films on this list, these five just speak to me differently. In this saga, we have Whispering Corridors (1998), Memento Mori (1999), Wishing Stairs (2003), Voice (2005) and A Blood Pledge: Broken Promise (2009). There are a lot of subtle moments and hints throughout each film, so pay close attention. You may miss something that explains a good part of what is going on.
I’ll give a brief synopsis for each film here before we finish our tour today.
Whispering Corridors: While investigating the school files, the frightened teacher Mrs Park startles and calls the young teacher Eun-young Hur, telling her that the deceased Jin-ju Jang is back. The line dies…
Memento Mori: In this second instalment of the Whispering Corridors series, a young girl finds a strange diary, capable of arousing hallucinations, kept by two of her senior fellow students who seem to have an unusually close bond.
Wishing Stairs: A staircase leading to the dormitory of a remote boarding school usually has 28 stairs, but every so often there appears to be 29. When someone steps on the mysterious extra stair, the horror begins.
Voice: While training after hours in her high school, the aspiring singer Park Young-Eon is mysteriously killed and her body vanishes. Her ghost is invisible and trapped in the school, but her best friend Kang Sun-min, who broadcasts at lunchtime in school, is able to hear her voice.
A Blood Pledge: Four friends make an oath sworn in blood to commit suicide one night, but the next morning only one is found lying dead on the school grounds.
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