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#51. Happiness of the Katakuris & #52. Three...Extremes - Review

The Happiness of the Katakuris posterIn class we discussed Takashi Miike’s film The Happiness of the Katakuris; exploring the film’s violence and surrealist nature, and to what purpose Miike was trying to make such ridiculous cinema. We spoke a lot on violence, specifically the violence found in Asian “extreme” films, and fetishistic undertones found within this brand or genre that so fascinates the west.  Oddly enough, the word “horror” was never mentioned throughout the lecture and subsequent group discussion. I found that odd, not because violence is so closely connected to the genre, but because I considered so many of these films we discussed to be horror movies. Audition (Miike, 1999), One Missed Call (Miike, 2003), The Isle (Kim Ki-duk, 2001), Battle Royal (Fukasaku, 2001), A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon, 2003), The Host (Bong Jun-ho, 2006), and many more films can only be classified as “horror” and yet no one uttered the word. As if the word itself is pejorative. I wonder how many of Asia’s biggest blockbusters over the last decade or so have been horror films? With the obvious influx of American remakes being churned out by Hollywood on a regular basis, it is hard to argue these films offer what western horror films lack; atmospheric volatility.

When I think of Asian horror films I immediately consider what sets them apart from American horror films. Where American directors continually debase the genre with needless gore, excessive nudity, and vacantly engrossed violence; Asian directors approach their films more philosophically. Of course not all Asian extreme films are philosophical, or even good films for that matter, but there is an obvious difference between the east and the west. Mood and tone are delicately set early on in films like 1998’s Ringu. Thoughtfully directed, this film takes its time and quietly prepares each frightening sequence with the build-up needed to secure the screams it desires. Not relying on blood or gore, Ringu solidified American audiences expectations for what Japanese and Asian horror films were capable of.  Interestingly enough many Americans would have never heard of Ringu if not for its Hollywood remake in 2002. Simply titled The Ring, the remake was a surprising success and remained mostly faithful to its original source material. After The Ring there was an influx of American remakes of Asian horror films. Ju-on was made into The Grudge, while Dark Water, Shutter, and many more East Asian films were being converted into digestible American movies. In his essay Remaking East Asia, Outsourcing Hollywood writer Gang Gary Xu explains Ringu’s success: “…What makes Ringu adaptable is its already Americanized features: American suburb life style, and thrilling yet non-threatening horror.” I assume what he means by “threatening horror” is the stereotypical American slasher. Freddy Kreuger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Meyers, and countless more angry males have butchered thousands of people in both expensive blockbuster pictures and independently financed B-horror films.3 Extremes Poster

However, not all Asian films are as easily transferable across the Pacific Ocean. An anthology picture emulating the classic Twilight Zone (1983) and Creepshow (1982) structures, Three…Extremes offers three different 40-minute short films directed by some of the most acclaimed (and notorious) Asian directors. Each with its own unique atmosphere and story, this single film serves as a great exhibit defending the stylistic differences found not only between the east and the west, but of also Japan (Miike), South Korea (Park), and Honk Kong (Chan). Chan’s Dumplings is an excellent example of the shock horror found in Hong Kong. Its disturbing plotline follows an aging actress so desperate for youth and beauty that she willingly digest dumplings filled with crushed human fetuses with supposed de-aging effects. With ultimate gross-outs and humorous undertones, Dumplings is a modern day fable warning us against greed and vanity. Park Chan-wook’s segment plainly titled Cut at first seems like a prime candidate for the American remake treatment. A successful director comes home to find his wife tied up with piano wire by a crazed extra that is angry over the fact that the man is talented and wealthy, while at the same time is also a good man. Following more in the ultraviolent methods like 2004’s Saw, Cut has no problem showing fingers being cut off, young children being strangled to death, and pools of blood slowly building throughout the short film. The South Korean segment is content with this brutality because it is mostly concerned with its philosophical dilemmas about man and the importance of success; issues, which I can safely say, are cross-cultural in today’s male society. Takashi Miike’s The Box is by far the hardest to dissect, and seemingly impossible to remake into an American horror film. Its surrealistic style only helps to blur the director’s intentions. The Japanese segment of Three…Extremes is perhaps the best example of what Gang Gary Xu defined as “aura.” He explains, “Without ambiguity, be it psychological or sexual, there would not have been aura… aura is something that you can vaguely feel but can hardly locate or identify.”

            It is with this “aura” that Miike’s The Box and many other East Asian horror films so quintessentially embody. This terrible, almost palpable feeling of dread that goes past frightening and is able to physically effect your body. It is with the subtle visuals and precise editing style many of these films succeed as horror films, but I believe it is because of these directors’ incubation in East Asia philosophies and filmic traditions that they so effectively titillate and frighten the viewer from any country. 

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