Continuing our horror journey around the world, we head to Greater China to explore the diverse genre offering from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Mainland.Photo by @javan via Twenty20
Welcome back to Morbidly Beautiful’s Journey Around the Horror World in 80 films. In this month’s entry, we will be exploring three films from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. While they may be closely linked, both geographically and politically, the horror movies each area produces are quite distinct and different from what is produced in the rest of the region.
Mainland China‘s horror roots can be traced all the way to cinema antiquity, with 1937’s Song at Midnight — a Chinese version of The Phantom of the Opera. In the modern age, it’s difficult to find a film that is exclusively a Chinese product. Instead, most films are cross country productions, involving collaboration with the United States and other countries.
Hong Kong, which was under the rule of Great Britain until 1997, also has had many crossover productions with other countries. The most interesting entry in Hong Kong’s horror lineage was a mash-up with Britain’s Hammer Horror for the ninth and final installment of their famed Dracula series, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Hong Kong horror films are often identified by their ultra-violence and occasional blend of Kung Fu and Horror.
Taiwan produced a plethora of absolutely insane horror films in the 1980s, which treated audiences to bizarre premises and even more bizarre monsters. Films like The Witch with Flying Head, Calamity of Snakes and Wolf Devil Woman are some of the greatest low budget exports from the area. Modern film from Taiwan tends to focus on themes and stories aimed at a young adult audience.
The three films I chose to highlight below do a great job exemplifying the uniqueness of each country’s horror output. The Hong Kong film is a violent, action-horror crossover, the Taiwanese film has bizarre monsters and is targeted at a younger audience, and the Chinese film is completely unique and highly original.
Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky – Hong Kong, 1991
In 1984, there was the Video Nasty Panic in England where horror films were banned. A few years later, in Hong Kong, there was something known as Category 3. When the Hong Kong government decided to get into the business of rating movies, Category 3 films were those that were illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to “rent, purchase or watch”. Perhaps the most famous of all Hong Kong produced films — and all Category 3 films — is 1991’s action, kung-fu, splatter gore hybrid, Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki.
As the name implies, the film follows the story of Ricky, a criminal sent to a high security prison run by a tyrannical warden and his gang of goons. If Ricky is to survive his stint in prison and protect his fellow inmates from the predation of the warden’s prison bosses, he must fight his way through them all, literally.
The gore in this film is absolutely insane.
Ricky punches through sumo wrestler’s stomachs, ties his tendons back together with his bare hands and explodes people’s heads with a single punch. It’s on par with other splatter films like Dead Alive, and the finale may even surpass that film in terms of gallons of blood shed on screen.
This insanely bloody and wickedly fun film is currently streaming on Tubi.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters – Taiwan, 2017
They say, “Never judge a book by its cover” — and this age old adage rings especially true when it comes to MON MON MON Monsters. The cover art for the film screams comedy, and one viewing of the upbeat trailer set to pop music might make you think this is lighthearted comedic fare for a young teen audience. But when Shu-wei and his friends capture a zombie-like monster girl and start torturing her by ripping her teeth out one by one, you will quickly reassess your judgement of this seemingly unassuming film.
This unique and ultra-violent film has an underlying theme of the pitfalls of bullying. However, while the message of this film is strong and important, the creative team did not neglect the things that horror viewers love most: blood and guts.
[POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD]
The scenes where the group of teens tortures the monster will make your skin crawl for sure. But that’s nothing compared to the scene where their teacher get poisoned by monster blood and shits a gallon of blood in front of the entire school before spontaneously combusting. Perhaps the best sequence of the entire film is when the monster’s sister stumbles upon a bus load of school kids and murders them in brutal fashion set to a soft, Japanese rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.
A fantastic film, with an outstanding message and a final scene that will leave you speechless, MON MON MON Monsters is one of my favorite films of this whole journey.
Don’t miss this engrossing and unforgettable film, currently streaming on Shudder.
Rigor Mortis – China, 2013
Films like Rigor Mortis are an absolute nightmare, not only for viewers but for the unlucky reviewers like myself who have to somehow express in words what this film is about without absolutely ruining it.
A spoiler-free review will tell you that this is one of the most unique films you will ever see. An entire universe and mythology is built in the 105 minute runtime of this film, and none of it feels forced. The best advice for this film is to go in as blind as possible. Don’t read a synopsis. Don’t watch the trailer. Just find this gem on Tubi, press play, and buckle up for a wild ride that will not disappoint.
For those of you who want more, I’ll give a brief overview.
For everyone else who is going in blind and taking in this amazing film in its purest form, WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Kung fu actor Chin Siu-Ho plays washed up kung fu actor Chin Siu-Ho. He moves into a dilapidated housing project, where he attempts suicide by hanging himself in apartment 2442. Twin demons appear and try to possess him, but he is saved by a vampire hunter who runs a restaurant on the main floor of the building. At this restaurant, he cooks glutinous rice, which wards off vampires. Many of his dishes he serves to ghosts who live in the building.
When an old man in the building dies, a black magician in the building — who smokes cigarettes made of “the ashes of the unborn” — brings the old man back to life as a vampire. Unexpectedly though, he eats a little kid and is possessed by the twin demons. The vampire hunter and a dying Chin Siu-Ho, imbued with magical powers of the five elements, battle the possessed vampire to the death in an epic battle full of beautiful cinematography and outstanding special effects.
Yes, all of that happens and more. Of all the films so far on this journey, Rigor Mortis is by far the most unique.
An experience like none other, Rigor Mortis, currently streaming on Tubi, is not to be missed.
If you are hungry for more China horror, definitely check out the original and the remake of Song at Midnight. For Hong Kong horror, check out the amazing kung fu/horror mashup The Seventh Curse, as well as the extremely violent and over the top Human Lanterns. Finally, for Taiwan, for a modern film, check out 2019’s Detention — or for something older and a bit more insane, and I mean really insane, check out Child of Peach.
Make sure to follow Morbidly Beautiful (and me) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or wherever you consume social media for the latest in the series as well. You can also check out this letterboxd list.
In the next entry of the series, we will be exploring films from South Korea as we get closer and closer to the end of our journey.