The extent in which some individuals will go to in order to fulfill a prized desire can be absolutely ghastly at times—especially when it involves murder. Director Ho-Cheung Pang’s film Dream Home explores this concept of desire through the most shocking of actions, going as far as exploring the obsessive nature that stems from such materialistic endeavors. Linking back to a childhood memory of her family being displaced from their home by land developers for the purpose of building an apartment complex, the film follows the plight of Hong Kong telemarketer Cheng Lai-Sheung (played here by Josie Ho) as she wrestles with her obsession to essentially reclaim the domain she once lost. Overworked and with the price of occupancy at the apartment complex steadily increasing, we find Cheng Lai-Sheung executing a desperate plan to lower the paying price at the complex through a rather disturbing undertaking—by viciously murdering a portion of its tenants.
First and foremost, Dream Home is a horror film. From the focus on severed throats to the elongated loss of spilt entrails, the film is perhaps one of the most gruesome depictions of bodily harm to be release within Hong Kong cinema for some time. Considering this is quite a departure for director Ho-Cheung Pang—whose recent films have been primarily within the genres of comedy and drama—Dream Home starts out with a grisly murder and continuously establishes sequence after sequence of escalating carnage. Couple this with some of the most creatively comical ways in which certain individuals are butchered and you have a film that is darkly humorous at times. This use of comedy certainly alleviates the seriousness of the film’s material, but it may have the opposite effect towards those viewers willing to do without the comical elements within horror films. And while the film does weigh heavy on the brutality of Cheng Lai-Sheung’s killing spree, there are elements of drama intersperse throughout that allow us to sympathize with the her situation. This is not to say that her rather vicious actions are justifiable but we do see the development of a character that isn’t simply viewed as an individual without much back-story or purpose for their inappropriate deeds. With our introduction to her is viewed through a scene of ruthless homicide, the film slowly explores her initially simplistic reasoning for her wanted to have such an apartment complex in the first place.
It’s this character development that makes Dream Home far more than simply another horror film with one-dimensional lead characters. While the elements of drama aren’t specifically original, they do provide a strong foundation in which to examine the economy and subsequent housing market problems that have faced Hong Kong within the last two decades. While other films have explored this concept in the past, it’s refreshing to see it utilized to such a degree within a horror film such as Dream Home in that it broadens the scope of film’s narrative to be somewhat more poignant. In a way, this choice makes the homicidal actions within the film seemingly more plausible given the circumstances surrounding Cheng Lai-Sheung’s despairing economical situation. Pushing people to the edges of desperation, we slowly see the effects of how a perceived desire to want something of materialistic substance can essentially propel people to levels of absolute insanity.
Inevitably, many will come to watch Dream Home in order to see it devastatingly brutal actions of murderous mayhem, but the film has much more going for it than initially meets the eye. There are underlying elements of satire that permeate throughout the film, expanding upon its basic premise of horror and looking beyond it to gloss over issues that are relevant in today’s current society. While these elements of satire may not be as strong as some would hope, they do offer the film the ability to stand alongside its strong usage of gore and give the viewer much more to think about. With a considerable performance by Josie Ho—a surprise given her rather subdued roles in the past—Dream Home is a surprisingly refreshing horror film that is as gruesome in the bodily mutilation it showcases as its widened—albeit superficial—examination of the current housing crisis within Hong Kong.
Death Bell 2 is really no better or worse then its counterpart. The first Death Bell was fairly exciting, but this go around I felt it was more of a chore to watch then anything else. Just as its predecessor, this is about a bunch of elite high-school students who discover themselves the targets of a mysterious slasher while back in school during the holidays cramming for their college entrance exams. Except this time, Death Bell 2 is not directly related to the first film, however follows the dramaturgy of Death Bell almost step by step. By the end of the film, you will most likely end up feeling used, bored, and/or angry.
DB is better than DB2 since it’s more scarier and interesting. Meanwhile, the hidden truth behind Tae-yeon’s suicide is slowly revealed and terrified students struggle to death to undo the puzzle before they become the next victim. Jiyeon who usually looks sweet and sexy, in this movie looks a little bit scary. It can be seen from one of the posters of “Death Bell 2″, she posed with a cold face and a bloody neck… so creepy. It is so creepy, in fact, that it may just be the scariest factor of this film! What ultimately saves the movie is its intriguing whodunit which throws suspicion on the culpability of some of Tae-yeon’s fellow students in her death. Still, DB2 recycles its material from the original, what’s most inexcusable is how it manages to do so even worse than its predecessor did.
There are zero new surprising elements, zero new ideas, and even the characters are non-interesting. OK yeah, I was praising in the first movie, they had a pure school girl for a change, which is a fresher from watching models all the time in Western horror movies, now they added a model who is not even nude. How dare they! If there’s one thing the first film did better then that it was mostly straight-forward. DB 2 is more talkative than its predecessor, without adding anything we need to hear. There are some really bad sequel movies, this one just might take the cake.
All in all, horror fans stay away from this turd. Even the main actress, they again have chosen a singer/actress to take the leading role. I never understand why they do that. I kept waiting for something relevant to happen, but nothing ever did. Nothing made any sense. If I couldn’t make it any clearer before, I’ll say it once more…DB 2 essentially rehashes the same premise with a different group of actors and substitutes gore for any kind of genuine horror. Yoo also exhibits none of the dexterity in pacing and editing that his predecessor’s director Chang had, and these scenes of carnage hardly excite or thrill. Avoid.
I’ve been on a Sion Sono kick lately and wanted to watch another one of his films that I had let slide through the cracks. It’s more lighthearted and not as disturbing as his other films. The plot is in the B horror movie tradition and centers around a dead girl’s cursed hair. But there’s also the parallel storyline of hairdresser Yuko and the cute Mami-chan. Although, the hair is lovely and very enchanting, the hair is cursed by an evil spirit. The vengeful force bedevils anyone who wears them by manipulating the hair follicles in every part of the human body. Say what you will about the quality of recent Japanese horror flicks, but if there’s one director who stands out in Asian horror business it’s Sion Sono.
I have to admit, this movie about haunted hair extensions is a first for me, but from the beginning, Sion Sono was a director who failed to fit the specific horror mold. If you you’re a fan of J-horror or like Sion Sono or Takashi Miike’s films then you should definitely check it out, this is something you haven’t seen before. The scenes in Osugi’s room are marvelous, making excellent use of lighting and hair effects to create shots that linger on the eyes. There are several stories running at the same time, all separate and connected in their own way, but blended masterfully.
The film remains a strange mix of elements. In the beginning it looks like a simple parody on the J-Horror genre, but after a while other elements creep in which make the film more disturbing than it should have been on first sight. For instance, the worst part about the movie was the realistic child abuse. Miku Sato is so convincing with her role as Mami that the audience would definitely feel her ordeal. Mami is a child very afraid, and Sato gives her character a lot of life, the child actress bears her soul to portray her character. It also doesn’t hurt that the production values are very high. A must see for fans of the burlesque and horrible.
There’s no real ghost girl in Exte, but there does happen to be a whole lot of hair that’s gone on a killing rampage. Sion Sono has also mixed in some elements of torture porn in here, but nothing too excessive. In my opinion, Exte is some sort of an homage and at the same time a critique, that most horror flicks tend to be very superficial and are not trying to imply more than pure scare tactics. The imagery of long creeping black hair is really unnerving, and i think it could have been put to much better use. That aside, this is a solid horror film and one of the better ones I have seen lately. It isn’t a masterpiece and if you think about it long enough, the premise is quite stupid. However, the ways of hair torture are on display as Sono manipulates our senses with visual manipulation that borders on being absurdly twisted and at times jaw dropping.
I was never really a fan of the Ju-On series. If you hadn’t ever noticed, I have never reviewed The Grudge on this website (at the time fo this review) and it is because I was never motivated to share my opinion on such a mediocre film. In this film(s) case, this is brand new Grudge story, so I decided to tackle it and watch it in one sitting. On its own, the episodes within White Ghost and Black Ghost can be extremely short stories of their own, and it is clear that it may be the stronger of the two. This movie tells a story of revenge. Revenge by someone who blames her friend for neglecting her at a time she sought and needed her help. I won’t go into details but you’ll understand that once you’ve seen the movie. White Ghost then flip-flops back and forth between several characters and decides to let the audience try and figure things out for their own. To say I was lost a few times watching this is an understatement.
Now given that this movie is just an hour long, I won’t blame a viewer if he missed this part of the story. In just a matter of less than 3 minutes, you’ll see a scene of Atsuji caressing her sister Mirai, Mirai mentioning something about her underwear, and the ghostly grandmother somehow lusting for Atsuji. I think this film has a good frame work for a really good horror; just not enough was put in. Like I touched upon in the first paragraph, I personally, prefer White Ghost to Black Ghost, mainly because of the storyline which was more engaging and kept within its limits. Also, you can tell right off the bat that these two films didn’t get much of a budget, which is somewhat surprising considering how successful the series is internationally. In addition, the director is still promising a third Grudge movie for Japan, not to be confused with the American The Grudge 3, which wasn’t directed by Shimizu. Not confusing at all.
Ju-On fanatics may just appreciate these entries, but it just doesn’t generate enough scares for me to recommend. They continue very much in the fine tradition of suddenly appearing in ridiculous places, grabbing at characters, their black eyes wide and enthusiastic, making their trademark throaty clicking. 10 years after the original are we still spooked by these recycled tactics? The J-Horror staple of scares is to let the audience’s imagination do much of the work. I’ve been watching Asian films enough to know that, but what good is your imagination if you are bored to tears?
In conclusion, this film is only getting a review posting above the original western version because it is a new blu-ray release. If you were wondering about picture quality, well, Ju-on White Ghost Black Ghost has the shiny, overly polished look of high def video. Everything here is smooth, and supplements are aplenty. Aside from that, I can’t give much praise to this release. Also, what the heck with the old lady holding a basketball? Her appearance was just a gags. The only original ghost that appeared in this movie was Toshio, for a little five sec. Where is Kayako? Takeo? Ridiculous. If you’re a fan of the Ju-on series, you may want to rent this, otherwise, for everyone else this is a definite pass.
Four post-high school teens are running around the countryside looking to stay with a relative on a country estate in China. They get there and are greeted by this creaky old door, cobwebs and a black cat. So we know for sure this is a MYSTERIOUS HOUSE. Suddenly, an older gentleman with a sinister look opens the creaky old door, so now we know things are getting spooky for reals. The kids of course invite themselves in and the old curmudgeon seems to be annoyed his game of Mahjong was disturbed. We come to understand Mysterious Man carries around a pocket full of nails and a hammer and it isn’t just for hanging pictures, you know what I’m saying? He begins to pick the kids off one by one in a snooze fest of (un-shown) murdering frenzy and never once are we interested in the kids, him, the house, or the back-story of some kind of 20 year old love grudge vendetta regarding the parents of one of the girls.
Act II reveals itself in reverse chronological order and we are in a hotel bar. Mysterious Man and another man are hanging out talking about life and philosophy. Taking a page out of the Leonardo DiCaprio book of acting, the other man intensely smokes squares one after the other whilst shooting straight from the hip, straight from the script. The acting by this other man is self-consciously camera aware and you keep wondering why the Mysterious Man won’t “nail him”. Yet he doesn’t because this is opposite world where everything you want to happen won’t, and instead, the scene is set for a little song and dance, Tango number. That’s right, the hotel clerk and the serving girls and the new man all start dancing the Tango, Shall We Dance-style. It sounds funny! A little Twin Peaks noir humor break, no? If only it was. The final act saves half of the film and while it doesn’t deliver any solid performances (accept, perhaps, MAYBE that of the leading Mysterious Man) or relinquish any new material, it provides a late sense of urgency. We understand and finally feel a connection for Mysterious Man, his broken heart, and his pocket full of nails.
Horror aficionados may like the syrupy silliness of it and feel a connection to the good man gone wrong genre feel…but that is really a stretch when the song and dance number hits. Song and dance lovers may get groovy to the beat until a serious horror film tries to erupt. Drama lovers may be the most served here, however they tend to demand a better quality script, plot advancement and well…better drama. More than anything, it feels like this may be the beginning of a trend, this cross genre B movie slapstick, and if it is, I hope Chinese directors can create more of a defining arc.
Student Yamano Koichi records with his video camera the arrival home of his sister Haruka (Aoyama Noriko), 27, after she broke both her legs in a car accident in the US. Their father Shigeyuki (Tsumura Kazuyuki) is leaving on a business trip, so Koichi has to look after his sister while she slowly recovers. The following morning Haruka finds her wheelchair has mysteriously moved during the night, so Koichi leaves a pile of salt in the room, joking that it will “drive off evil spirits”. Next morning, the salt has been flattened, and a video recording that Koichi secretly made shows the salt being moved by an unseen force. The rest of the movie plays out by showcasing the hauntings and whatnot. Nagae Toshikazu is no stranger to the ghost/horror genre having directed “Ghost System” and “Gakko No Kaidan” but as with those films, his tendency to overplay the fear factor does do a disservice to the audience.
The film gets more and more tense as the story progresses, but it’s the characters that draw you into the story. What Koichi discovers is beyond anything he could have ever imagined and, as the situations intensify, a terrible fact is revealed. I won’t spoil the surprise, after all, here’s something you don’t see too often: a Japanese adaptation of an American horror franchise. For fans of this very specific genre, Tokyo Night is an OK movie without being in any way great.
That being said, I give applause to Japanese filmmakers for doing what seems to be common-place in the US these days, that is, ripping off movies from other countries. Though not as terrifying and effective as its two American predecessors, Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night features some good scares, and plenty of shocks and suspense. The real kicker for me was the explanation as to why these paranormal events are happening to Haruka. It was interesting to see the Shinto blessing/exorcism rituals and I wish they would have played that up more.
If this is what you’re looking for, then chances are you’re going to walk away with a smile on your face and a shiver down your spine. For me, it was more of the same. After my initial viewing of the film, I gotta say it was like first 2 sequels. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just leave it at this: If you liked Paranormal Activity, you’re gonna love this too. I didn’t quite get a sense of suspense nor danger with this one but I still had a good time. For any movie that warrants a good final grade. Horror fans should check this one out! It makes for a decent entry into the wildly popular Paranormal Activity franchise.
If it weren’t for films like “Saw” this film would be just as much of a classic as Battle Royale. Both were based on a novel. Ten people who agree to take the same lucrative “job” find themselves locked in an underground complex and forced to play a murder game for seven days. Pretty standard stuff, however, while having similar concepts, The Incite Mill was nowhere as controversial nor suspenseful. The end result is the winner gets a huge sum of dough. It’s well known that people would do despicable things if offered a lot of cash. Unfortuantely, without an increase in gore, sequels and a Stateside remake are highly unlikely.
As a real life game of Clue, The Incite Mill would work if the viewer would not question the flawed plot devices. The main character played by Tatsuya Fujiwara is likable, smart and played very convincingly. Tatsuya gives his best performance I have seen to date, avoiding acting like any of his characters from other films and keeping you engaged and into the plot. So after analying all these elements the only thing left to ask myself was, who is the murderer? Who has the gun? As the participants spiral into paranoia, the ultimate survival game begins. Despite an inhouse arsenal that extends from nail guns to battle-axes, pic offers only mild violence. Even though the violence is turned down, the number of twists and the character diversity makes it pure pleasure to watch and the film is far from boring.
Thanks to the recent success of Gantz, every season there are always a couple of movies that tell the various groups of people involved in a deadly game hatched by some authorities. Hopefully there won’t be too many more made as the genre will become stale. The moment for the ghostly ladies with the long black hair has passed. But people still want to be scared at the movies. The Incite Mill is sometimes nicely staged and beautiful to look at, which result in a few individual scenes which can quickly rise tension, and he has maybe two or three surprises. It contains a critique about the sick state of Japanese society, including the online blurring between game and reality.
All in all, result offers relatively mild scares, though an eerie soundtrack makes for some uneasy moments. From a guy involved with Battle Royale, I expected a lot more. Instead of innovation, we instead the focus is on a sealed-off “game house” and the desperate stratagems of the players to emerge from it alive. On the contrary, it gets even more interesting once the contestants find out that their actions are being broadcasted worldwide, more people join the killing game and the suspicions start to drive the players crazy. Somehow I don’t think David Fincher will be directing the remake; as least not with the current script. Still, I enjoyed myself, so this film does what it sets out to do.
Loft (2005) is Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s genre bending, experimental, love story that subtly pokes J-horror clichés by diffusing them while retaining the creepy, atmospheric elements that are Kurasawa’s trademarks. This little known film has been out of print for some time now, but is important as his farewell to J-horror, the genre that made Kurasawa famous among cult cinema fans. During a talk at Yale University following Loft’s screening, he commented, “I had to do something that was a horror film, but at the same time I wanted to destroy horror films.”
In Loft, Kurasawa revisits his familiar theme of isolation with Miki Nakatani (Ring 2, Chaos) in the lead as novelist Reiko Hatuna. Reiko rents a country house suggested by her deadline-obsessed editor, Koichi Kijima (Hidetoshi Nishijima) in an attempt to break her writer’s block. With this clichéd narrative premise as his framework, Kurasawa introduces, and then slyly twists horror film paradigms from every conceivable sub-genre.
Early in the film we watch Reiko move in and out of the frame. The stationary camera maintains watch, surveillance-style over the character, adding a voyeuristic aspect to the viewer experience. Only her frequent coughing breaks the silence. At first we attribute the cough to her incessant smoking until she begins to cough up some kind of thick, brown goo. As unsettling as it is intriguing, this peculiar condition of Reiko’s inexplicably disappears once her mind becomes preoccupied with the mysteries of her new surroundings.
In a scene straight out of Hitchcock, Reiko spies the man next-door loading what looks like a sheet-wrapped body into the back of a truck. The man turns out to be archeologist Makoto Yoshioka (Etsushi Toyokawa) and the corpse, a 1000 year-old mummy recently pulled out of a nearby swamp. To hide the mummy from some students partaking in fieldwork, he asks Reiko to keep it temporarily at her house. That night, she becomes aware that the house is haunted by a female ghost but remains unsure of the spirit’s identity. Is the mummy trying to communicate or is this something else? The mummy story begins to fade in importance when Reiko finds the manuscript of a story left by the previous occupant, a female writer who has disappeared. Reiko and Yoshioka grow closer as they try to solve the mystery. At this point, Reiko gives up the protagonist seat to Yoshioka, taking a supporting role during the ensuing murder investigation.
From mummy to ghost story on to murder mystery and romantic melodrama, archetypical plots are established and dropped with no resolution in a disjointed storytelling style that has viewers constantly guessing what type of movie they are watching. In a comment about the horror film industry and its oversaturation of the market with copycat films, Kurasawa allows every horror trope to fizzle, underscoring their inability to be scary. It is a bold idea, but doesn’t go far enough to prevent confusion. In an interview with Suzanne Lloyd for DVD Talk, Kurasawa admits his difficulty in finding support for Loft. “…What I ended up making is kind of a strange love story with many horror elements. That’s the film I wanted to make, but that’s a bit of a hard sell in the Japanese market. Apparently, I should have made a less unambiguous love story or a more ambiguous horror. We’re struggling a bit to find the appropriate release.”
That said, even a flawed Kurasawa film beats most mainstream movies hands down. As a director who makes films about filmmaking, Kurasawa creates unease through the use of inventive camera placement, while using atmospheric environments and multi-layered symbolism to great effect. When Reiko explores the house during a power outage, even the most jaded viewer will sit forward in spine-chilling tension.
Teke Teke (2009) extends director Koji Shiraishi’s interest in adapting Japanese urban legends into film. This particular legend, often told by school children, tells of the ghost of a young woman split in half by a train. Her legless ghost haunts the train station, propelling herself on hands or elbows, making the ‘teke teke’ sound as she pursues her victims through the tunnels. Low budget director, Shiraishi, responsible for Carved (2008), and the UK-banned torture flick, Grotesque (2009), certainly isn’t averse to cinematic violence so the gore restraint in this film is somewhat surprising. As with most urban legends, retellings vary regionally. In this movie version, if the person being followed looks at the ghost it will give chase, slicing the victim neatly in half upon capture. Victims who escape the clutches of the ghost are given little chance to enjoy their moment. They are cursed and will die within three days.
Interesting casting choices place two popular cultural idols in lead roles. Yuki Oshima, a member of super group AKB48 plays Kana, a high school student who runs into ‘teke teke’ while investigating the murder of her best friend, and gravure idol (swimsuit model) Mami Yamasaki has the supporting lead as her cousin, Rei.
With more than half the film’s short 70 minute run time given over to character development, the wait to actually see the ghost makes up most of the suspense. Special effects artist Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl) led the creature design team and compared to his past work, I expected something more a bit more intense. Many of the same shots are reused, showing the ghost scampering along a dark corridor and the darkness of those shots makes the ghost difficult to see. Finally, a full daylight close-up delivers the goods during a scene that finds a terrified Kana’s refusal to look at the ghost as it moves menacingly near her face.
The concluding element of the film forms a derivative race against time where Kana and Rei attempt to placate the vengeful spirit before their three days expire. In uncovering the ghost’s story, however, Shiraishi playfully references an alternate version of the legend, that of Kashima Reiko, a female ghost without legs that lives in school bathrooms.
In spite of a generic, rushed ending, several directorial choices maintain a fresh take on the tired J-horror formula. The nearly all-female cast and well-written character roles could spark some interesting new film trends. Given his casting choices, Shiraishi might have exploited idol adoration, but chooses (wisely) to play it straight and in doing so pulls solid performances from his leads. Deliberate pacing moves the film along in realistic fashion, a nice contrast to the unreal situation the girls find themselves in, and the ghost story embedded within a slice of life narrative provides welcome relief from the standard scenarios.
Originally shown as a double feature with Teke Teke 2, this first film plays like a setup for its more violent sequel, especially apparent once the viewer watches the bridging scene right after the credits end. For horror fans with a taste for the extreme, Teke Teke may prove too tame with its minimal gore and relatively few shocking moments. However, in its casting, narrative style, and source material it takes some interesting new steps in a direction that may prove influential to future J-horror directors.