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Cover Story: Asian ghouls reign ! (smg mention)

Monday 2 February 2004, by Webmaster

Cover Story: Asian ghouls reign! Faridul Anwar Farinordin

Jan 27:

Hollywood is remaking Asian horror movies to cash in on their huge popularity, writes FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN. THE world is in the grip of hantu (ghosts). The celluloid world, that is. And they are of Asian origin. Yes, we’re talking malevolent spirits that crawl out of TV sets (in Japan’s The Ring) and come through bedroom windows (South Korea’s The Wishing Stairs). Then there are those that appear under the duvet (Japan’s Ju-On: The Grudge) and kitchen sink (South Korea’s A Tale of Two Sisters).

Pale-faced, long-haired and angry, these restless souls are going places, terrorising audiences across the globe.

With the remake of The Ring in 2002 by Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks SKG, it looks like Hollywood has endorsed Asian horrors.

(The Ring was the biggest horror movie to hit the US that year, earning more than US$100 million or RM380 million in the first five weeks of its North American release.)

Now, there are plans to adapt Ju-On: The Grudge for American audiences. To be directed by Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series, Spider-Man), the movie, which will be renamed The Grudge, will star Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Dreamworks was reported to have won the rights to A Tale of Two Sisters, which was the biggest Korean movie for an opening weekend. The movie attracted more than 770,000 cinema-goers and earned over US$4 million.

Different studios have also snapped up the rights to other Asian nightmares. Disney is expected to release the remake of Japan’s Dark Water (starring Jennifer Connelly) while the Tom Cruise-owned production company Cruise-Wagner Productions is set to come up with its version of Hong Kong’s scary flick The Eye.

In Malaysia, the popularity of Asian horror films, particularly from Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, began in early 2002 with the release of The Eye (directed by brothers Oxide and Danny Pang).

It’s a chilling and disturbing tale of the blind Wong Kar Mun (Lee Sin-Je) who sees dead people after undergoing a cornea transplant. She later travels to Thailand to find out more about her donor, only to learn about her newfound gift.

"We decided to distribute The Eye here as an experiment of sorts, following the increasing popularity of music and TV serials from these countries," said United International Pictures (M) Sdn Bhd marketing manager Kara Lee.

The response, she recalled, was overwhelming. "The movie ran for two months, although we initially predicted that it would only last two weeks.

"We were also surprised to find out that Malay viewers made up three-quarters of the total audience."

She believes the market for Asian horror films here is bigger than ever now.

"When we released A Tale of Two Sisters last year, it went on to become the highest-grossing Asian title ever, surpassing even some popular Hollywood films," she said, adding that the company’s other releases in the same genre, namely Ju-On: The Grudge and The Wishing Stairs, also did very well at the box office.

This year, the company plans to release more Asian horror titles. "There will be sequels to Ju-On in March and The Eye, as well as other new movies from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. I’m sure horror movie buffs will be happy with this year’s line-up."

Buena Vista Columbia Tristar Films (M) Sdn Bhd marketing manager Dominique Hee said the company decided to release Asian horror films here as part of its mission to promote "non-mainstream and foreign cinema to the local audience".

"When we released Dark Water in September 2002, our aim was to provide an alternative foreign film for Malaysians to enjoy. So we decided to market it as we would any Hollywood movie and not as an art film."

The recent popularity of Asian horror films worldwide, Hee added, was a bonus. "Disney recently purchased the rights to remake Dark Water in English for international audiences. I guess there is an increasing demand for cinematic novelty everywhere in the world."

Other scary movie titles that the company has released since then include a Hong Kong production of Double Vision, Japan’s Ring-O (the prequel to The Ring), Phone and White Room (both films are from South Korea).

Such fascination for these movies is really not surprising. In Asian spooky tales, fear is felt more than it is seen, making them scarier than their Western counterparts which rely on violence, blood and gore and emphasise less on the characters or the plot.

While American films seem to rely on bogeymen like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Michael Mayers (Halloween series) and Jason (Friday the 13th franchise) going on a killing spree, Asian flicks manifest fear by featuring malevolent spirits that go bump and more in the night.

The storyline also plays a big role in Asian spooky stories, which are often based on culture and age-old traditions. As such, a multitude of cultural themes - honour, justice, family ties, redemption and reincarnation - are presented in such flicks.

One Hollywood movie reviewer declared that The Ring "makes the Blair Witch Project (a sleeper-hit independent scream fest about a bunch of misbehaving teens who run for their lives after inadvertently waking up an evil spirit) seem like a stroll in the woods".

Perhaps what really sets Asian horror films apart from other movies in this genre is the story treatment. Ghosts and evil spirits are not the main focus in these movies. They are just small pieces of puzzles which form the overall picture that rattles the viewer. But when they appear on screen, you’d better be ready for them!