Many claim that the plots of films with death scenes come secondary to the grotesque murder scenes which serve as the film’s “money shots”. This cannot be further from the truth, as many films serve as intelligent social commentaries on the fears and flaws of the time in which they are made. This being said, there are two things of note before you read this list:
- Movies like Machine Girl, The Story of Ricky, etc. don’t qualify as emotional death scenes. This isn’t a list that explores the hilarious over-the-top or coolest deaths.
The victim’s death may be well-deserved, accidental, expected, sudden, or intentional. Some effective death scenes even occur off-screen. All that matters is if it was effective in distilling some sort or strong emotion in you while adding to the story. Below is a definitive list of the Top 10 Asian Death Scenes compiled by myself, our Editors Olivia & Vikram, and contributing Writer DJ. Enjoy!
Scene: The piano has a malevolent life of it’s own. It decides to EAT someone.
Why it’s great: Where else could you see a girl eaten by a piano, an upright Bear helping cook dinner at a roadside noodle-stand or a man turned into a pile of bananas because he doesn’t like melons!? With all its packed in candy-colored confections and novel door prizes, “Hausu” is a cinematic surprise party all in one…just add you. I haven’t been affected by a death scene in such a way since thus it gets a nod on the list.
Scene: Serving as a prequel to the 2002 hit Infernal Affairs, this entry is surrounded by the unfortunate death of Hau. Hau has risen to take his father’s place as triad boss, as he is the only Ngai sibling directly involved in the family business. The climax of the film is a standoff between Hau’s gang and the police, with Sam taunting Hau to kill him. As Hau shows signs of intent to fire his weapon, Wong shoots him. Hau collapses to the ground, dying in his half-brother’s arms; moments before succumbing to his gunshot wound, Hau discovers the wire in Yan’s jacket and that he is actually an undercover cop.
Why it’s great: There is a fantastic scene where Hau contrives to have himself held in Police custody whilst the other gang bosses are murdered and the way the film cuts between his interview and the other bosses being wiped out is worthy of comparison with Coppola’s Godfather – the series has that whole epic feel and the way it culminates with the handover of power to the Chinese in 1997 with new bosses on both sides of the conflict coming to power is very well done. When Hau dies in the film, it reveals a big plot twist and it was a shocking turn.
Scene: Toshiro Mifune slaughtering another ronin in Sanjuro. This rivals Washizu getting an arrow in the throat in Throne of Blood and Lady Kaede’s beheading in Ran. Yet, it remains the most profound death in Kurosawa’s filmography.
Why it’s great: Those 25 seconds of waiting are more intense than any Hollywood fight scene. Not only was it dramatic and an important scene in film history, but it was painstakingly accurate. By gripping the tsuka in such a way, draw uses a grip from the underside of the tsuka and by using the right hand’s fist to punch the back of the sword creates a hell of a slice. Most films just try to look cool, Kurosawa made it look historical accurate, believable, and badass all at once.
Scene: Then the Bride goes to the garden, where she meets O-Ren. O-Ren challenges her and a sword fight begins. O-Ren gets the chance to kill the Bride, but underestimates her and gives her another chance. The Bride wounds O-Ren and the fight stops for a while. O-Ren apologizes herself for what she has done to the Bride and the Bride accepts that. Then the fight continues. The Bride defeats O-Ren by cutting the top of her head off.
Why it’s great: O-Ren Ishii is a half-Chinese, half-Japanese American woman who saw her parents brutally murdered at the age of nine years under the orders of a Yakuza boss, whom she kills two years later in an act of vengeance. She is nothing to play with as she acts as lead Tokyo Yakuza and has bodyguards named as the Crazy 88 and Gogo Yubari. Even getting to her would be in a feat in itself, but going through all the obstacles to get to her and then killing her is an achievement. As O-Ren dies, she notices that the Bride’s sword was really a Hattori Hanzo sword. Classic.
Scene: Some perverted bi-polar kid hits on a girl, and when she rejects him he pulls out a crossbow and shoots her cheek. Not taking kindly to these series of events, the girl chases the kid into the words to tackle him and she stabs the dude in his NUTS a few times.
Why it’s great: The students in Battle Royale serve as a cross-section of every student type you’ve ever known, and it is fascinating to see their approaches to their situation. The girls try to be peacemakers with varying degrees of success, previously unexpressed love plays out with tragic results, and the whole group struggles with the fact that when the end comes there can only be one left. One guy suggests they just get it on because they’ll die anyway. Well, he dies, and in a fashion that will make any guy quiver in fear while watching. Female empowerment at its best, and a truly shocking death that deserves a spot on the countdown.
Scene: There are rules to adhere to when fighting in the Kumite. To win, you either knock your opponent out, throw him out the fight area, or he yells ‘matte’ which insinuates he submits. Bolo fights an opponent and crosses the line to the point where the entire arena shuns him. He not only brutally defeats him, but he seems to not know his own strength and openly kills him in front of everyone. Showing no mercy or disregard to his actions he demands his hand raised in front of a shocked and disgusted audience.
Why it’s great: The movie begins with the preparation for the Kumite somewhere in Kowloon Walled City. Then a number of fighters are shown preparing for the Kumite with their own individual training regimens (from climbing trees, bashing coconuts, to breaking large ice blocks and boards). It sets up the tournament to be an honorable venture. The, Bolo Yeung makes a spectacular appearance as the evil one in the tournament. He acts about as cruel and heartless as one can get, and he makes the perfect climax for the film.
Scene: What begins as a cookie cutter horror scene, we are shocked at the conclusion as the victims stupid friend basically sets off two traps to first, strike fear, and secondly, to slice her face off. The gore is far beyond what you will find in any Western slasher film, and there is at least one scene where you have to wonder if the makers of Saw rented the film and took notes. This was one of those ‘HOLY ****’ moments I didn’t see coming and loved the innovation of this scene.
Why it’s great: Toshiharu Ikeda’s Evil Dead Trap was really popular in Japan. Whenever I thought the film was regressing into conventionality, it always surprised me by turning back on itself, usually with an aforementioned brutal killing. However the ending was what most shocked me; what seemed to be a conventional explanation for the “mystery” of the killer eventually culminated in a horrific gorefest that probably got David Cronenberg wondering if he’d misplaced a script. Horror and gore movies have tried to duplicate method in this movie decades after this film wrapped up but they just can’t match it.
Scene: In a battle between the police and the bandits, Captain Kumjorn is taken prisoner; Dum is given the job of killing the policeman. As a last request, Kumjorn asks that Dum informs his fiancée of his fate and produces a photograph of his wife-to-be. On recognizing Rumpoey’s picture, Dum frees Kumjorn, but in doing so, he puts his own life on the line. In an attempt to bargain they flip a coin and gamble he can shoot a bullet through it. Well he succeeds, and also shocks the viewer by blowing his head clean off.
Why it’s great: It is a very violent film, but the kind of violence that is truly comic-book, taken to a level of exaggeration which rather than making you gag, just makes you wince and laugh. And that is the point. Some people have said that is just terrible, but it is knowingly terrible. It is never attempting to be anything like high art. And in its badness, it is often beautiful and brilliant.
Scene: Sun begs Jin to leave, but he insists that he can free her. Sun is crying and says that he can’t save her. Jin tries again to free her from the metal pinning her in with no luck.As the sub was flooding and it became clear that Jin wasn’t going to be able to get Sun out, Jin chooses to die with his wife.
Why it’s great: As one of the only shows I followed from episode to episode I was emotional invest with these characters over the years. This was easily one of the most emotional deaths of the series. After three years of being apart, Sun and Jin are finally reunited only to die with each other a day later. Sun begs Jin to leave again and he says “I won’t leave you. I will never leave you again.” We see Sun and Jin’s hands holding each other under the water and then the slowly slip apart. Like a punch to the gut, everyone in America watching this was left speechless. Great death scene.
Scene: Ching Wan, an honorable samurai, sees no point in dueling, but Hashimoto kills a Shaolin monk to force Ching Wan’s hand. The two warriors engage in a gravity-defying swordfight around a rocky coastline. Both swordsmen become mortally wounded before they separate and quietly stare out into the ocean to their deaths.
Why it’s great: Every ten years, the greatest swordsman from Japan faces the greatest swordsman from China in a duel to the death for their nation’s honor. Duel to the Death is about the motifs and reasons for these “duels” in which the fighters have to fight at the expense of their own lives. The main characters themselves question why this all has to be how it is, and isn’t there any peaceful way to use martial arts and its philosophy. When the credits roll you get a sense of overwhelmed sadness over you as you realize you’ve witnessed one of the best death scenes in cinema.