Friday, February 13, 2009

The hungry horror of Asia


Filipino critic Noel Vera has written an essay on the Hungry Ghosts program at the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam, which fed audiences a slew of horror films from across Asia.

Among the Thai films in the Hungry Ghosts show was 4Bia, the four-segment omnibus from directors at GMM Tai Hub. In his essay, Vera, of the Critic After Dark blog, uses 4Bia as a jumping-off point to survey the current state of Asian horror cinema. Here's an excerpt from his article (say it with me in a Marlon Brando stage whisper), "The Horror! The Horror!":

Take for example 4Bia (Youngyooth Thongkonthun, Banjong Pisan-thanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Paween Purijitpanya, 2008). It's an omnibus with four short segments on four wildly differing subjects (a girl with a broken leg and her phone-texting stalker; a curse scribbled on a piece of paper; a quartet of friends on a fatal boating trip; a stewardess on a special flight delivering a dead passenger), told through four wildly differing approaches. If one can't observe common ground within a single film, how much more difficult is it to categorize the cinema of an entire continent?

That said, is there anything to be said about the current crop of Asian horror? A few cautious observations -- Asian filmmakers generally have lower budgets, are usually quicker to resort to low-tech gimmicks like extreme camera angles, trick editing, prosthetics, on-camera effects (with the additional benefit that said effects, not having undergone the unmistakable fading that results from being processed through computer software, seems sharper, altogether more real). They are thanks to the aforementioned lack of a large production budget less eager and more modest about displaying their monsters, wraiths, what-have-yous (with the additional benefit of generating more terror (thanks to the build-up) at the sudden entrance of a latex-and-corn-syrup creation than said creation has any right to expect).

They are on the whole (and I love this, the word being entirely appropriate to the theme of this portion of the festival) hungrier. What with smaller budgets, smaller audiences, and no guarantee that they'll see any of their money back, Asian filmmakers tend to take more chances, try more tricks, pour more energy and intensity and sheer unnerving fear into their films than their better braced Hollywood brothers. They believe in their projects, and no wonder -- they have little else (certainly not money!) they can pour into them.

I've noted that much of the source material often isn't new. 4Bia's four storylines are inspired by, respectively, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), James Wong's Final Destination (2000), Alejandro Amenabar's The Others (2001), and George Miller's segment [Nightmare at 20,000 Feet] in The Twilight Zone (1983) ...

In order, the segments are Yongyooth's suspenseful Happiness, Paween's gory Tit for Tat, Banjong's hilarious In the Middle (which directly referenced The Others, as well as Titanic and many, many other films) and Parkpoom's airborne thriller, Last Fright.

Of the four movies each segment references, the only one I've not seen is Final Destination, though, admittedly, it's been decades since I've seen Twilight Zone: The Movie.

I'm still a novice when it comes to viewing Asian horror and, I guess, horror in general. So I'm still figuring how to view horror films with a critical eye. The article makes me think that I need to lighten up, perhaps not be so damn critical and try to enjoy myself.

(Via Critic After Dark)

1 comment:

  1. I saw this here in Toronto at Toronto After Dark. I loved In The Middle and am rather fond of Happiness [great, great payoff at the end of it] and thought Tit for Tat could have done without the CG. I felt Final Destination was the weakest of the bunch. Not a good way to end it but what can you do? Overall, a good experience at the movies.

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