Asian horror movies have risen in popularity over the last decade and there is great argument around the horror-phile world that perhaps the Asian horror genre has surpassed the American one in terms of quality. It would seem that more and more successful American horror movies are just remakes of Asian ones, as in the examples of The Grudge, The Ring, and The Eye.
These films have found great success in the United States because they are truly original in their art form, genre, and delivery. Many horror aficionados in America will complain that while the Asian horror market continues to put out original content, the American cinema continues to roll-out remake after remake of American and Asian movies.
What exactly are we talking about here?
“Asian” horror movies are those made in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and others in the Far East. It could also refer to horror movies that are made in southwest Asia in countries such as India and Pakistan. At times, these movies will be referred to as J-Horror, for Japanese horror and K-Horror for the Korean influence.
Different than American Horror?
Yes, they are absolutely different than American horror movies…but they’re also similar, too.
While the essence remains the same—to scare the noodles out of you—there seems to be a slight difference in what Americans and Asians value in what is truly scary.
The Asian culture has a more sensitive and deeper understanding of the value of a family than that of westerners. As is evident in the divorce rates of our two countries with the US being nearly 50% and the Japanese being, well, almost non-existent. Their families, and the reputations of those families, are the most important thing in many Asian cultures.
Different Asian cultures have diverse practices and religions but one thing remains constant throughout Asian horror: They have a lot of concentration on the dead. The topics of burial, what happens to the spirit once the body has died, and a great concern for the family that is left behind are deeper issues in Asian culture.
And it is perhaps for these reasons–concern for family and obsession with the care of the dead–that the Asian horror movie genre consists of a great deal many more ghosts and poltergeists than the American horror genre. As you may be able to imagine, if a person were to be haunted by a family member it would mean that they somehow did them wrong during life and if a person were haunted by a non-family member that may symbolize a need for change.
The Ultimate Difference
Some of you American horror-philes are probably jumping out of your seats by now, screaming, “Hey! American horror has plenty of ghosts and spirits!” And this is true. Yet, one large difference doth loom.
Asian horror movies understand something that most American’s do not, and that is: Once a ghost or spirit has decided to make your life a living hell than it is very difficult to stop it.
The horror, anguish, and tension are enough for an Asian horror movie. On the other hand, American horror movies—even Asian remakes like the The Ring and the The Grudge tend to need to add an explanation about the why the ghosts or evil spirits are doing what they are doing.
Asian horror relies more on the tension building and theatrical skill rather than a story line that explains the inner-workings of the haunting.
A Different Look At What Causes The Horrible
It may seem that what causes truly terrifying scenarios for Americans is any psycho with a blade or a chance circumstance of bad luck. The Asian culture is different however. Their horror lies within omens, shamanism and “signs”.
There are also cultural differences in the characteristics of monsters in Asian films. A ghost or vampire cannot see humans but they can smell their breath. If you hold your breath then a vampire or ghost won’t be able to detect you but you could wind up with a vamp’ or spirit an inch from your face sniffing away furiously.
Another difference is in language. Just like you will never find a 13th floor in American hotels, in China you won’t see a room number 4. The Chinese word for “4″ sounds terribly like the word for death.
But the horror is truly terrifying within any culture. Be it an American watching Asian horror or any citizen of a number of different Asian countries watching Friday the 13th for the first time…there are sure to be screams and frights.