Saturday 27 October 2012

World Cinema; Is Korean Horror The Best?

Asian horror gained a huge following after the success of 'Ringu' back in the early 2000s, but in more recent years, Korea has overtaken Japan in the horror stakes, with a number of darkly innovative films making their mark on world cinema. Korean cinema is no longer the 'poor relation' of Japanese film and has become hugely successful in its own right, with a distinctive national identity all of its own. But is Korean horror the best worldwide? Here are three films that I've handpicked to prove that Korean horror is where it's at!

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

First up is the unsettling psychological horror 'A Tale of Two Sisters', which was hugely successful upon its release and became remade in 2009 as 'The Uninvited'. 'A Tale of Two Sisters' is renowned for being ridiculously complicated but its atmosphere and startling imagery have made it the most successful Korean horror film to date. The plot revolves around two sisters who return home after spending time in a mental institution but as well as having to deal with their cruel and insane stepmother, the girls are also haunted by a malevolent spirit who terrorises them during their recovery. For me, 'A Tale of Two Sisters' is to be enjoyed more as a disturbing experience rather than as a coherent story, due to the twisty plot but on these terms, it is easy to see why the film has received so much attention internationally.Seriously creepy stuff.

Scariest Moment: All I'm going to say is that I will never look under my kitchen sink again without crapping myself from fear. 

The Host (2006)

When 'The Host' was released in 2006, it continued to raise the profile of Korean cinema internationally with its bizarre mix of humour, horror and genuine heartfelt emotion. 'The Host' takes everything that is thrilling about the monster genre but humanises it with a cast of dysfunctional family members who ultimately band together to survive. When this first came out in UK cinemas, I wasn't quite sure what to expect but I quickly fell in love with this film, due to its charismatic leads and surprisingly high budget action. While 'The Host' may not be as terrifying as the other films on this list, it could be my personal favourite due to its enjoyment factor. This is world cinema at its most accessible and yet it is by no means dumbed down for a Western audience. Watch the trailer to see what you think.

Scariest Moment: The most tense moment for me has to be when Hyun-seo is trying to figure out what's going on and in the background, you see the monster running at her full pelt, with Hyun-seo still completely unaware of what's happening. You just want to scream at her to get away but weirdly, she never seems to hear me...

Thirst (2009)

Vampires have been hugely mistreated by Hollywood in recent years but 'Thirst' takes huge strides to address this balance. With effects that rival any Western production but at only a fraction of the cost, Park-Chan Wook (director of Oldboy) has crafted a stunning film that genuinely explores new aspects of the vampire mythology while retaining the horror behind the original stories. The basic premise involves a priest trying to deal with his transformation into a vampire but what marks the film as truly original is that amongst the terror and gruesome visuals, there is also a bizarre love story in there as well. If you are someone who is not normally a fan of subtitled films then I would definitely recommend 'Thirst' as the perfect introduction to world cinema. Just like 'The Host' above, this film is intelligent and well-made but is still highly accessible to horror fans worldwide.

Scariest Moment: This scene might not be 'scary' per se but the moment when Sang-hyun feeds off Tae-ju while her paralysed mother watches on, unable to move, is pretty horrific stuff.

South Korea continues to produce some of the most exciting films in world cinema at the moment, including a number of exciting additions to the horror genre that subvert the bog standard Hollywood films. If you think Korea produces the best horror films or even if you disagree then let me know below!  

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