For decades Asian horror films have been considered to be the best and most beloved by fans of the genre, as well as filmmakers from all over the world, but particularly those in North America. Some of the reasons for this are that many of them utilize the technology that existed at the time to impressive effect, and that writers and directors take inspiration from their own cultures, mythologies, and histories that aren’t part of North American history outside of Indigenous and African American communities.
The love, fascination and admiration for these films have led to dozens of films from Asia being remade by American filmmakers. The most well known examples of this are The Ring film series produced by DreamWorks Picture, being a remake of the 1998 Japanese cult classic Ring directed by Hideo Nakata, and The Uninvited (2009), which was adapted from the South Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters, which is on my list.
I always have a fun time making these kinds of lists because it encourages me to watch films that I’ve either had on my watch list for a while, or check out others I wasn’t aware of, which is exactly what I did here.
Though this list is short, I’ve curated films from all across Asia, including a few I consider practically cult classics for fans of the genre, ones I might never watch again because they’re just that effective (here’s looking at you Audition), and some that, while they may not be the best technically, the stories and acting make them worth a watch for the deep, topical underlying themes and messages. Plus, they’re all fun to watch.
The films listed fit into various sub-genres such as horror-comedy, supernatural-horror, and action. Each film was selected to highlight not only the work being done by film creatives across Asia, but also because I believe the themes and narratives are those many people across the world can relate to, because what woman doesn’t understand how oppressive and selfish patriarchy is? Or if you’re from a culture where generational curses are acknowledged as being real, the belief that the possibility of breaking them is as difficult as the consequences of the curses themselves.
Please note this list isn’t arranged in any particular order, so don’t think the placement of the titles is indicative of their quality or worthiness. However, I will start with the Japanese film Audition, one of the most mind-bending films I’ve ever seen, with a particular sequence set on a staircase that still haunts me to this day.
Directed by famed Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, and based on the 1997 novel by novelist and filmmaker Ryu Murakami, is a film I’ve seen once and I’m not sure I’ll ever see again because it’s so effectively disturbing, which is exactly what you want with a horror film. I’ve never looked at piano wire the same way again.
The Medium/ร่างทรง Rang Song (2021)
Written by Chantavit Dhanasevi and Na Hong-jin, and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, The Medium is a Thai-South Korean co-production multi-genre horror that uses the mockumentary style to film the lives of a family of spiritual mediums in a small village located in the Isan region of Thailand. What begins as a curious investigation into the family’s current medium, Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), turns into a fight against evil forces, when the dark past of the family begins to reveal itself in their tragic present. While I enjoyed this film, I will say its two-plus-hour run time should’ve been shorter.
Inhuman Kiss/แสงกระสือ (2019)
Inhuman Kiss was recommended to me by a friend who thought I would enjoy it, but left the plot as a surprise to me, and to be honest I didn’t know what to make of this Thai supernatural-horror. But a girl with a head that detaches from her body and attacks people was certainly an entertaining surprise, as was its theme about jealousy being a carnivorous and corrupting force of evil. Also me at one point for a scene that had nothing to do with the head: “It FLIES?!”
Quả Tim Máu/A Vengeful Heart (2014)
Based on the original Vietnamese stage play by Thai Hoa, this supernatural-horror adaptation by Vietnamese American director Victor Vu, brings to mind the unsettling realities and disturbing possibilities of “cell memory,” when the recipient of a heart transplant becomes haunted with strange dreams after her surgery.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Much like how Audition changed the way I look at piano wire, this film - 장화, 홍련 in Hangul, which translates to “Rose Flow, Red Lotus,” made me side-eye white cloth sacks for many years. Writer and director Kim Ji-woon created one of the most disturbing physiological horrors about the connection between siblings, the misconceptions and mistrust parents can have of those connections, and what we perceive to be real or not.
Aval/The House Next Door (2017)
Titled “Aval,” which is “her” in Tamil, this Indian horror speaks to the devastating consequences of patriarchy, and how men can be both the greatest love of a woman’s life, and her greatest nightmare. The film was directed by Milind Rau, and stars Andrea Jeremiah and Siddharth, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rau.
The Wailing/곡성 (2016)
Written and directed by Na Hong-jin, The Wailing is one of my favorite horror films. It’s deeply unsettling in how Na Hong-jin uses sound, imagery, time, and costuming to build a layered story about how patriarchy, sexism, religion, spiritualism and gender are all interconnected in denying the realities of the violence of South Korea’s past as it relates to the horrors enacted on the young girls and women who would come to be referred to as “Comfort Women” by their Japanese captors.
Get The Hell Out (2020)
Blood! Lots and lots of fake blood was used in director Wang I-Fan’s political martial arts horror-comedy, to great narrative and visual effect. If anyone ever says that horror films can’t be political, and funny, show them this Taiwanese film. Co-written by Wang, Chien Shih-Ken, and Yang Wan-ju, this bonkers, fast-paced action explores the greed and corruption of politicians and broken systems, by using a fast-spreading virus that turns people into flesh-eating zombies as an effective metaphor.
Published on October 29, 2022
Words by Carolyn Hinds
Carolyn is a Tomatometer-Approved Critic, Journalist, Podcaster and YouTube. Her published work can be found on Observer, ButWhyTho?, Shondaland, Salon and many other. She’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), co-hosts So Here’s What Happened Podcast! and is the host of Carolyn Talks…, and Beyond The Romance Podcasts. You can find her regularly live tweeting her current Asian drama watches using #DramasWithCarrie, and the weekly Sci-Fi watch along with #SaturdayNightSciFi.