ORBzine - Asian Horror 2007 Movie Reviews

TITLE & REVIEW

Battle Royale 2 (2003)

Battle Royale 2 The survivors of the original film are now freedom fighters, out to topple the oppressive government that condemned them to the Death Game. Unfortunately, the government has discovered the rebels' hideout on a remote island. Instead of fighting each other, the next batch of school-children are used as the The Dirty Dozen. They stage a beach landing that resembles Saving Private Ryan, then fight their way into the ruins. Sort of like how the SEALs did in The Rock.

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  • The Beast (2019)

    The Beast (2019) This is a South Korean movie, based on a French film.

    A teenage schoolgirl has been kidnapped. The missing persons case is upped to a murder case. Two police officers are both put on the case - one is by-the-book and the other is a thug. However, this is not a buddy cop movie. Instead of being partners, they are rivals - each running his own unit. Worse, the Major Crimes unit can over-rule them both.

    As well as the murder investigation, there is also an ongoing storyline about organised crime. The local drugs gangs are ethnic Chinese, and they control the building that the murder suspects live in. Worse, the protagonist gets implicated in a crime. Yes, this is basically a Film Noir.

    The plot threads get intertwined and slowly resolved, although there is little which is original. That said, it is a well-executed piece.

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  • Burning (2018)

    Burning (2018) This is a Korean movie about a young man who is befriended by a beautiful girl. She goes off to work for a charity in Kenya, and returns with a new friend named Ben (Steven Yeun - The Walking Dead ). Then, after the three hang out together, she gets a lift home with Ben.

    The next morning, she mysteriously fails to answer her phone. Her apartment has been tidied, almost as if she has gone on a vacation, but her luggage is still in the closet. It is almost as if she disappeared.

    The protagonist suspects that Ben had something to do with the disappearance. He protests innocence, but he has a subtle air of creepiness about him. Yeun delivers a great performance, so different from what the western audiences associate him with.

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  • Dragon Wars AKA D-War

    Dragon Wars AKA D-War A young television journalist (Jason Behr - Roswell ) and his cameraman (Craig Robinson - Hot Tub Time Machine ) investigate when a mysterious scar-faced man is up to no good.

    Strangely for an American movie, the monsters are oriental dragons and the caucasian characters are reincarnations of Korean heroes. In fact this was produced in South Korea, which accounts not only for the Asian look to the production design but also for the high quality of the CGI SPFX, especially when one considers that the film was made on a modest budget several years ago.

    The Evil Overlord's forces, looking like the Gungan Army in Star Wars: Phantom Menace , march into the centre of Los Angeles and take on the US Army's M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

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  • First Love (2019)

    First Love (2019) A young man gets involved with a rookie hooker, and they end up on the run with a bag full of stolen drugs. They are chased by the police, plus a couple of different criminal gangs. It all ends when all the different sides engage in a shootout. Yes, this is basically a Japanese rehash of True Romance.

    The differences are what make this film unique. Instead of Patricia Arquette's happy hooker, this one is suffering withdrawl symptoms from narcotics and has halucinations reminiscent of a J-Horror movie. The final shootout forgoes Tarantino's suspenseful mexican standoff, and instead goes for a stalk-and-shoot that seems a poor version of John Woo's Hardboiled. Even the police turning up seems reminiscent of City of Fire, the Hong Kong movie that served as Tarantino's inspiration for Reservoir Dogs.

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  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

    A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) This is Internationally feted as a ground-breaking Iranian horror film. Unfortunately, it may be ground-breaking in Iran (the English-speaking audience would not know because we get to see so few Iranian films) but it seems rather old-fashioned. And not merely because of the fact it is in black and white.

    The title character is a vampire who looks like a young woman. At night she prowls the streets of Bad City, an oil town in Iran. With her wearing of the traditional female headdress, and her targeting of hedonists like junkies and alkies, she seems more like an Islamic traditionalist than a feminist icon. This has more in common with medieval morality plays than with modern, intellectually-challenging films.

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  • The Handmaiden (2016)

    The Handmaiden (2016) This a Korean film, is set in the era between the World Wars when it was a single country occupied by the Japanese Empire. A Korean con-man seeks to rob a wealthy collaborator. He recruits a girl thief, and gets her a job as servant to the collaborator's niece. This makes her the Handmaiden of the title, and most of the movie is from her perspective.

    This was adapted from an English-language novel, Fingersmith, set in London in the Victorian era. The Korean versions of the antagonists are exaggerated, almost to the level of cartoonishly evil, so that their brutal come-uppance seems more justified. Due to the differences from the original work, the novelist preferred that it be credited as inspired by.

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  • The Mimic (2017)

    The Mimic (2017) This is technically not J-Horror because it is a Korean film. However, it has more in common with that subgenre than with American efforts.

    The protagonist is a woman who is emotionally damaged thanks to the disappearance of her son five years previously. She and her family move to her husband's home-town. However, this merely brings them a whole new set of problems.

    Their new house is beside the woods which contain a creepy cave. A supernatural entity that lives in the cave can mimic human voices and lure its victims inside. There is also a creepy little girl, which gives this movie shades of Dark Water . Finally, the monster's avatar can appear in mirrors. This is such a classic trope that it is not really worth discussing.

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  • Oldboy (2003)

    Oldboy (2003) This is a wonderful example of Asian cinema, made in South Korea. An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in an apartment for a reason nobody will tell him. While locked in the apartment he has nothing to do except watch TV, so he trains himself to fight. When he gets out, fifteen years later, he goes after whoever was behind his abduction.

    There is a romance subplot as he falls for a young waitress. There are some great fights, and a twisted ending.

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  • Oldboy (2013)

    Oldboy (2013) This is an American adaptation of a Korean movie. The director, Spike Lee , is not known for his genre pictures but attributes himself well and puts his own spin on the story.

    Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin - Deadpool 2 (2018) ) is a drunken asshole who messes up a sales pitch with a big client (Lance Reddick - Lost ). Worse, Joe is abducted and held for twenty years by gangster Chaney (Samuel L Jackson - The Hitman's Bodyguard ) and his henchman Browning (Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) ). His cell has a TV that lets him watch shows like Xena: Warrior Princess as early as 1994 ... even though the show did not air until a couple of years later!

    Eventually Joe gets out, and teams up with his old buddy Chucky (Michael Imperioli - Primal (2019) ) and potential love interest Marie ( Elizabeth Olsen ). He is manipulated by the mysterious Adrian (Sharlto Copely - District 9 (2009) ) and his hench-woman Haeng-Bok ( Pom Klementieff ). They set him a challenge - if he wins he gets freedom and his long-lost daughter ... but if he loses, they will kill the girl. Things get darker from there on.

    This is possibly the best MCU movie never made - it features Thanos and Scarlet Witch versus Nick Fury and Mantis. When you watch it with those characters in mind, the storyline takes on an entirely different meaning.

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  • Parasite (2019)

    Parasite (2019) This is the much-feted Korean movie that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020. In reality it is about as original as La La Land - perhaps not even as much.

    Basically, this is Treehouse of Horror stuff. The Simpsons are poor, and live in a basement in a slum. Bart gets a job at the home of the rich Flanders family. He then gets Lisa and the others jobs as servants too, replacing the existing staff members. Then, when the Flanders family is out of town, the Simpsons party. Of course, things go badly wrong.

    The Korean film industry has produced a series of films that re-defined their entire genres. Oldboy (2003) is a revenge thiller, The Host (2005) is a monster movie, Thirst (2007) is a vampire film, and Train to Busan (2017) is a zombie movie. The reason that none of these was deemed worthy of an Academy Award seems to be that they were all genre-based films. In contrast, Parasite is a very basic film.

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  • The Piper (2015)

    The Piper (2015) This is a Korean movie, set in the aftermath of the war in the 1950s. A man and his son travel to a remote village in search of work. The village has been overrun by a plague of rats, and the man a piper has a plan to get rid of them.

    Of course, when the piper makes good on his offer the villagers do not want to pay him. They have a deep dark secret - the plague of rats seems to be a divine punishment for their collective sin. But when they turn on the piper they try to justify their actions, first by calling him a thief and con-man, then by accusing him of spying for the Commies. Evidently Cold War paranoia was a big thing in a country which was recovering from an invasion by Red China.

    The setting may be nearly post-apocalyptic, but there is a strong undercurrent of eastern mysticism. The villagers look to their shaman for advice, and accept her prophesies as truth. This does not bode well for them when they get a prophesy of death and destruction.

    This may be the Asian version of a well-known European fairy-tale. However, it is a refreshing change from the usual J-Horror ghost story.

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  • The Raid (2011)

    The Raid (2011) This was filmed in Indonesia, with English subtitles. Ironic that the writer/director was a Welshman, Huw Evans. He delivers a film that was so successful it earned a sequel.

    This starts in the back of a police SWAT team's APC. The commanding officer delivers a briefing which contains all the exposition the audience needs. Their job is to infiltrate an apartment building run by a major crime lord. They end up out of their depth, outnumbered four to one at the start and soon whittled down to far worse odds. Instead of being picked off one at a time like in Predator , the elite unit are fighting a small army. However, as both sides have limited ammunition to begin with they soon resort to using melee weapons instead. The result is a violent martial arts action-fest.

    If the drugs-bust-gone-wrong storyline sounds familiar, Dredd 3-D came out the same year with pretty much the same story. Of course, they are different takes on the same theme. This one is more clearly influenced by 1990s efforts like The Rock and the previous Asian blockbuster action movie, Hardboiled .

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  • The Raid 2 (2013)

    The Raid 2 (2013) This film starts in the aftermath of the first film. Our hero is recruited into the Police's Internal Affairs unit, who want him to find the link between organised crime and police corruption. To do this they send him undercover as a convict, so he can befriend the Godfather's son in prison.

    Certain characters from the first film are written out, and the story goes off in a different direction. That said, there is still a lot of violence. Mad Dog, the villain's henchman from the first film, comes back as a hitman with a short but memorable storyline. He only has a couple of scenes, but they both involve major fights.

    Although the first film was well received, this sequel was deemed disappointing by many. If the two films are to be compared to Hardboiled , the previous Asian blockbuster action movie that was deemed more action-packed than a hundred Die Hards, the first film was Tequila's story but the sequel was Tony's. Instead of a series of straight-up fights it has a lot of politicking and double-crosses. Perhaps a better comparison would be with Infernal Affairs .

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  • Thirst (2009)

    Thirst This is a much-vaunted Vampire movie from Korea. A Priest volunteers to work in a clinic that treats patients who have E.V., presumably some form of Ebola. He gets an experimental treatment there, as well as a blood transfusion. Strangely, neither the Ebola not the experiment are the source of his later Vampirism - it is a blood transfusion, apparently from an anonymous but civic-minded vamp.

    Once out of the clinic, the vampire priest must combine his religious morality with his new-found bloodlust and heightened physical sensations. He befriends the lonely wife of a cancer patient, and starts an adulterous affair with her. This is the core of the story, with the vampirism merely as part of the backdrop. It is taken from a book by the French novelist Emil Zola, and is apparently the only version of the story to feature any vampires. Much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies , this is a mainstream story with genre aspects added.

    The problem seems to be the beginning of the film, which is slow-moving and concentrates on introducing the protagonist before he becomes a vampire. But since the story is about the affair, not the vampirism, this is not really relevant.

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  • Yakuza Apocalypse (2015)

    Yakuza Apocalypse (2015) This is a story about a Yakuza gang in a small town in Japan. An assassin arrives with a plan to kill the boss and take over the gang.

    The twist is that the Yakuza boss was a vampire. He bites his most loyal follower, who then sets out to avenge his death. Unfortunately the other Yakuza members are also vampires. Yes, the gangsters may metaphorically suck the life out of a community but these ones are LITERALLY bloodsuckers!

    The gangsters call in backup, in the form of a demon. This one looks like a man-sized frog, and as well as being a martial arts expert he also has the superpower of Hypnotoad from Futurama .

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  • Grudge Franchise

    Ju-On

    Ju-On This is the Japanese original that was re-made as the American film The Grudge . It seems that the US version was stretched over two films, with a much bigger budget. It has a lower budget (although it shows good production values), and effectively creates suspense.

    Basically, the film is about a haunted house. There are several story threads that each take place at a different time over a period of several years. Anyone who enters the house is affected by a curse - they are haunted by the ghosts of a woman and a young boy. Not only do the victims of the curse suffer an unnatural fate, but the curse can actually infect people they come in contact with!

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  • The Grudge (2004)

    The Grudge (2004) This is an American re-make of the J-Horror classic Ju-On . Because it features a uniquely Japanese ghost, Producer Sam Raimi left it in the original setting of a Tokyo suburb. The big change is that it is in the English language, and the main characters are American ex-pats living in Japan.

    The story starts with an American man (Bill Pullman - Independence Day ) in Tokyo. Of course, this being a horror movie it all ends badly.

    Next the story goes to the house of an old ex-pat woman ( Grace Zabriskie ). A young Japanese woman looks after her. Of course, this being a horror movie it all ends badly.

    Finally we meet the main protagonist and Final Girl, Karen ( Sarah Michelle Gellar ). This was Gellar's first big job after Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and not exactly the best way to re-invent herself after such a career-defining role. In contrast, her co-worker Eliza Dushku only appeared in Wrong Turn (2002) because of assurances the monsters were human and not supernatural.

    Karen's boss (Ted Raimi - Xena: Warrior Princess ) gives her an easy job. All she has to do is look after an old lady whose carer has mysteriously failed to turn up for work. And guess whose house it is.

    The original film had a non-sequential structure. This version is a lot more linear, but includes a flashback to when Zabriskie moved into the house. She was accompanied by her daughter ( Kadee Strickland ), her son (William Maprother - Lost ) and his wife ( Clea Duvall ). Of course, this being a horror movie it all ends badly.

    Another flashback, courtesy of Karen's investigations, we discover how Pullman fitted into the whole storyline. Yes, this is put together like a novel. It would be a nice touch if this was an original all-American production, but such things are standard in Japanese movies so we must hold them to a higher standard.

    Karen's boyfriend (Jason Behr - Roswell ) goes looking for her, so she must go and rescue him. Yes, this otherwise superfluous character has a purpose after all.

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  • The Grudge 2 (2006)

    The Grudge 2 (2006) This is a sequel to the American movie The Grudge (2004) , not a re-make of the J-Horror classic Ju-On 2 .

    Karen ( Sarah Michelle Gellar ) was doomed by the curse from the first film. Luckily she has a sister ( Amber Tamblyn ) who takes over her duties as the Final Girl.

    The story is told out of sequence. Scenes of the sister investigating the house are intercut with three school-girls messing around. One of them ( Arielle Kebbel ) falls victim to a cruel prank.

    Finally, this is intercut with scenes of strange goings-on in an apartment in Chicago.

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  • Grudge, The (2020)

    Grudge, The (2020) The opening sequence features an American woman who works in a house in Tokyo back in 2004. Unfortunately the house had the Ju-On curse, and when the woman returned to the USA she must have brought it with her.

    The main story takes up a couple of years later. Detective Muldoon ( Andrea Riseborough ) takes up a new job in a small town's police department. She is assigned to partner a veteran cop (Demian Bichir - ) who investigated a mysterious series of murders. Now she decides to investigate things herself, which leads on to intermingled flashbacks from the previous two years.

    In 2004, the haunted house's neighbour (John Cho - Star Trek (2009) ) was also the realtor representing the sellers, which gave him good reason to visit the house. Although it is made clear that a victim has to cross the threshold before they are cursed, the realtor somehow becomes cursed simply by looking at the house from his car as he drives past the place.

    In 2005, William Matheson (Frankie Faison - Silence of the Lambs (1991) ) moves in. Unfortunately his wife, Faith Matheson ( Lin Shaye ), is mentally unhinged and starts to befriend the ghosts.

    In 2006, Muldoon starts to see the ghosts following her around. She decides she has to finish the investigation, so she can end the curse before it ends her. This includes finding out what happened to her predecessor, Detective Wilson (William Sadler - Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey ).

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  • Ring Franchise

    Ringu 0 (2000)

    Ringu 0 This is set in the 1960s, in a small theatre in Japan. Sadako is both the virgin protagonist and the monster! All in all, this is actually a disappointing prequel.

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  • Sadako Vs Kayako (2016)

    Sadako Vs Kayako This is basically Ringu/The Ring versus Ju-on/The Grudge . Counting the US remakes this was the twelfth movie in each of the series, and it is certainly not the best. We should take this as proof that twelve is too many movies for a series, that double digits is a bad idea and that the optimum number of films in a trilogy is three.

    In the old days, Sadako gave you seven days. Now she has shortened it to forty-eight hours. Well, since the Internet runs in dog years it is only to be expected that digital monsters are up to seven times faster than analogue ones. Also, her movie-within-a-movie has been changed. The old one was a classic piece of arthouse film, while the new one is just her walking through a doorway.

    Since nobody has VCRs any more, the chances of someone watching the cursed tape are slim. However, not impossible. As always, some college girls end up being cursed.

    The changes have dumbed this down from a full-on horror towards the more ratings-friendly PG13-style movie that is churned out these days. Sadako does not do her classic appearance. Instead she merely causes the victim to comit suicide. Likewise, The Grudge does not have any creativity in its kills. Instead it will just break your neck. No imagination, so real suspense.

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  • The Ring (2002)

    The Ring This is a totally gratuitous Hollywood remake of the excellent Jap horror, Ringu .

    Naomi Watts is the protagonist, a female journalist (and single mother) investigating an urban myth, the killer videotape. As she digs deeper she discovers the mysterious Death Tape of the girl, Samarra. Brian Cox ( Troy, Manhunter ) is Samarra's father, according to her birth certificate ...

    This lacks the low-key approach of the original. Extra scariness is injected in at regular intervals, to make it more predictable for the audience. However, this is still better than the average US horror movie. Director Gore Verbinski and writer Ehren Kruger ( Scream 3 ) did a pretty good job, adding added a couple of scenes that were not in the original film but certaily add something. The first is when Watts looks out her window and sees that every neighbour has a TV in their apartment. Second is the TV in Samarra's cell - it was both her companion and mirror!

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  • The Ring Two (2005)

    The Ring Two (2005) This is a sequel to The Ring (2003) , the American remake of the J-Horror classic Ringu . It was written by Ehren Kruger , who penned the 2003 movie, but is directed by Hideo Nakata . Unfortunately it is a waste of potential.

    A college Frat boy (Ryan Merriman - Jurassic Games ) gets a girl named Emily ( Emily VanCamp ) to watch a copy of the tape. Yes, somehow the tape is still in circulation. Naturally, it all ends badly.

    Rachel ( Naomi Watts ) has quit the big city, and taken a job at a small town newspaper. By incredible coincidence, her new area is the same place that the Frat boy lived in. She gets dragged into the investigation.

    Our heroine gets some reluctant assistance from her cow-orker Max (Simon Baker - Land Of The Dead ). The boy is taken into custody by a suspicious paediatrician, Doctor Temple ( Elizabeth Perkins ).

    The reporter continues her investigations into Samarra's origins, in the hope that she will uncover a cure. A friendly realtor (Gary Cole - American Gothic ) points her in the right direction. Eventually she locates Samarra's birth-mother Evelyn ( Sissy Spacek ), and we get some exposition along with flashbacks of the younger Evelyn ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ).

    The climax is not a massive battle of good against evil. Instead it focuses more on the mother's love for her child. Shades of another J-Horror film, Dark Water .

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  • Rings (2016)

    Rings (2016) The story starts on a passenger jet plane, flying over Seattle. This is an attempt to make the movie look bigger and more impressive than the previous episodes, but it fails quite badly on this account. The original Japanese film maintained suspense until the end, when the audience finally got to see the true nature of the monsterous entity. However, this effort ruins the whole film by messing up the big scare and putting it in the pre-credits sequence!

    A couple of years later, a copy of the VHS tape falls into the hands of Johnny Galecki ( I Know What You Did Last Summer ). Much like his character in Big Bang Theory he is a lecturer at a university. He sets up a team of college students to investigate the tape. His reasoning seems solid, but he makes classic mistakes like converting it from analogue to a digital format. Of course, it all goes wrong.

    The Final Girl finds herself chosen to follow clues that Samarra set for her. Vince D'onofrio ( Men In Black ) pops up to help the investigation. They discover Samarra's origin story - apparently she was adopted. In the original story, Ringu , the video girl was Sadako who inherited her powers from her father - a sea-goblin. Remember, play with brine, goblins be thine. This film has a different, nonsensical origin.

    There are no real surprises in this film. Despite the film-makers' best efforts there are no good shocks, scares or suspense. Some scenes are reminiscent of a far better film, Don't Breathe , which has no place in the same universe as Sadako, spawn of a sea-goblin.

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