You have one week to live after seeing this picture from the opening of Ringu.
If there is a date that changed everything in the world of Asian horror films within the last ten years it is January 31, 1998. A tidal wave of pop culture and guerilla marketing culminated in the very successful release of Ringu (The Ring). Hideo Nakata's very chilling story about a cursed videotape and the secrets it reveals was a smash in Japan, and rumors of its high fear factor spread through the horror grapevine. The effectiveness and profits of The Ring opened a new cycle of filmmaking in Asia, and produced a thirst in the rest of the world for more of the same. Still, the wave was about to crest.
The Ring was released nearly simultaneously with its sequel, The Spiral (Rasen). Directed by Joji Iida, this movie picks up where Ring left off and follows Dr. Andou (Koichi Sato) as he investigates the mysteries of the videotape. Rasen suffers from sequelitis and lacks some of the sincerity that made Ring so frightening. Regardless, it was still a one-two punch of creepiness and the audiences loved it. There was no way The Ring series could stop there.
Even the undead need love in Bio Zombie.
A rival for horror fans' attention in 1998 was the Hong Kong cult smash Bio Zombie. Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee) face off against a small army of toxo-undead in a melee of mayhem and humor directed by Wilson Yip. Plenty of laughs with smart in-jokes and bodily fluids make this fine film a terrific entertainment. Essential viewing.
South Korea was starting to have a "New Wave" of its own. New South Korean Cinema was getting its ball rolling, occupying some of the void left behind by the dwindling Hong Kong film industry. South Korean action films moved at a different pace, had more humor and offered greater thematic variety. This spilled over into the dark fantasy film The Soul Guardians (Toemarok), directed by Kwang-Chun Park. In this movie, the child survivor of a suicidal satanic cult grows up to have strange visions as an adult and a group of heroes must defend her from the forces of darkness to prevent the birth of the Antichrist. That's quite a mix and the movie falters as it tries to do too much at once, but the cinematography is amazing and Park stages some remarkable action and horror sequences. It's a taste of what was yet to come from South Korea.
Hideo Nakata was very busy throughout 1998 and 1999. He directed Chaos (Kaosu), another guilt-inspired ghost story but a non-Ring film. In this film, the victim of a kidnapping gone awry haunts the kidnapper who discovers that there may be another angle to the criminal plot he hadn't counted on. No real gore or explicit violence in this one either, but it employs a Memento-like technique and provides thrills rather than chills.
Sadako's all-seeing eye returns in Ringu 2.
Nakata also made his sequel to Ring, which was simply titled Ring 2 (Ringu 2), not to be confused with Ring 2:Spiral. This film extends the plot of Ring in another direction, as we follow Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani) and her boyfriend's son, Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka), as they try to escape the clutches of the ghostly Sadako (Rie Inou). This film is on a par with The Ring in many ways and does not lose many scares for being a sequel. Sadako becomes more frightening as we learn more about her, which is a rare thing for a horror sequel.
As if two good films weren't enough, a plethora of other quality horror was hitting Japanese screens that year. Atsushi Muroga unleashed the amazing zombie film Junk (Shiryour Gari); full of gut-chomping, exploding heads and many walking corpses, this was a re-invigoration of the zombie genre well before 28 Days Later as well as a return to the stylish gory onslaught of Organ.
A zombie takes a snack break in Junk.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa completed his second film, Charisma (Karisuma), whose protagonist, a police detective who has gone even further off the mental deep end than the detective in Cure, finds himself in a surreal and foreboding forest. Starker and more atmospheric than Cure, this film is an echo of the more avant-garde filmmaking that has emerged from Japan in the past. Headier than Nakata, Kurosawa deals in dread and angst more than horror or fear, and his films are nearer to art than shock.
Takashi Miike unveiled his own brand of shocking art film with the severe and brutal Audition (Odishon). This twisted film begins harmlessly with two lost souls who meet each other, fall in love and so on. However, something goes very wrong, and what follows is an unrelenting psycho-horror descent into cruelty and mutual revenge. What separates Audition from other run-of-the-mill exploitation is the gorgeous imagery and subtle performances - it's an exquisite nightmare.
Bookmark/Search this post with: