Round up your friends and switch off the lights. By Natalie Pang
In all honesty, Hong Kong isn’t known for producing great horror films – you have Japan, Thailand, and South Korea for that. But when a good one appears, they catch our eye and we can’t stop talking about it. And as for the bad ones? They’re all swimming in the bargain bin but sometimes, you just happen to fish out a really, really B-grade, campy SFX-ridden one that became a cult-classic. Here are 10 classic movies you need to watch, stat.
In a bid to stay young and attractive to her husband, former actress Mrs Li goes to Aunt Mei, a local chef who claims that her homemade dumplings hold the secret to rejuvenation. Hint: it’s not pork in those dumplings. Dumplings was originally one of the three short films in horror film Three… Extremes (2004) but was expanded into a full length feature. Because … people have an insatiable appetite when it comes to food and horror movies?
Why you really need to watch it: To find out what was in those damn dumplings. (Don’t google, hor!)
The Eye (2002)
With its tight storyline, careful art direction, and only a smattering of clichés, The Eye is arguably the best Hong Kong horror film in the last 20 years or so. After getting a cornea transplant, Mun, who was blind since birth, starts seeing things. Can you imagine? Not only are you frightened by your new found sight abilities, you have to contend with seeing things other people can’t AND have them call you crazy. The movie still uses the occasional jump scares (can’t be helped) but it’s really the lingering suspense, tension, and quiet dread that really, really makes you want to watch out for the shadow at the corner of your eye.
Why you really need to watch it: You won’t look at your HDB lift the same way ever again.
Rule #1 (2008)
After a young police sergeant (played by Shawn Yue) claims to see a ghost in a gruesome case, he’s assigned to the Miscellaneous Affairs Department (MAD – lol) located in a remote, run-down building. A jaded Ekin Cheng plays his boss and now they’re the Mulder and Scully in this movie, except with less comedy and sexual tension. The #1 rule in MAD, according to the humourless Cheng: There are no ghosts. Except that that’s biggest damn lie of the movie. In fact, they have to stop them ghosts from turning humans into empty shells. This Bad Boys meets The X Files horror film has a wonderfully ridiculous premise, but the scares are legit and the atmosphere truly creepy.
Why you really need to watch it: Watch how humans fail as they use standard-issue firearms and bullets to stop ghosts. But A+ for effort, boys.
Home Sweet home (2005)
Hong Kong apartments are often cramped, tiny pockets of space that were probably built and rebuilt over years of history. So uh, be careful where you’re going to buy your next home. Because if you’re unlucky like Shu Qi, you might have to fight off a strange creature who lives in the crevices and dark spaces of the building. And oh, look who also just took your son hostage. And this is after spending HKD4.5 million on it. Good luck!
Why you really need to watch it: It’s one of the rare Hong Kong horror movies that don’t really touch on ghosts, black magic or the occult.
Rigor Mortis (2014)
What happens to a has-been actor who was once playing an iconic and well-loved horror character? He gets depressed, and haunted by ghoulish vampires of course. This film is a mess, and by mess we mean there’s a bunch of murders, ghost possessions, vampire-fighting, and corpse resurrection occurrences going on. And it’s all happening in an old, dilapidated, cramped Hong Kong apartment block. Don’t the neighbours ever get tired of the never-ending nuisances? Can’t a Hong Kong resident ever get a break?
Why you really need to watch it: This film pays tribute to the horror-comedy Mr Vampire movie series that came out in the mid-80s (the lead actor in this played the lead in Mr Vampire!). Except this one is a lot more hardcore and less funny. Still equally campy though.
The Untold Story (1993)
The English title doesn’t bring out how awesome/disgusting/creepy the movie is. The Chinese title <人肉叉燒包> directly translates to “Human Char Siew Bao”, which is more than enough reason to watch the movie. After a cook gets busted for cheating at a game of mahjong (so important to Hong Kongers), he kills the owner and the family, takes over the restaurant, and starts serving up his uh, signature dishes. Thank God we have HungryGoWhere these days.
Why you really need to watch it: To add to the horror, the movie is actually based on a true story. Except that it was never confirmed that the murderer actually sold buns made with human remains.
The Imp (1981)
The eighties were the start of the Golden Era of cinema in Hong Kong, and The Imp was probably one of the first few films that kicked off a horror movie trend. Except that The Imp serves the horror up straight and in a chilling, creepy manner. Though the movie might look dated (there’s a whole bunch of green smoke to up the ~spooky~ factor), the story is one surreal trip not unlike a David Lynch film. Charlie Chin plays a down-and-out security guard with a pregnant wife whose behaviour seems off. Also, his colleagues start dying one by one. In short, some spooky stuff is trailing him. And instead of latching onto him, the imp decides that reincarnation might be a better deal and possesses the fetus instead. Advisory: This is not something you want to watch with a pregnant friend.
Why you really need to watch it: Charlie Chin REALLY doesn’t want the baby. And it’s not a cool sight.
Visible Secret (2001)
So, Eason Chan falls in love with Shu Qi at first sight and they start a relationship. However, he soon finds out that she’s got some seriously major mood swings and is plain emotionally draining to be around. Guess seeing ghosts from your left eye will do that to you. Some critics say that it’s less of a horror movie, more so a dramedy with supernatural themes, but we think that Visible Secret is a must-watch, solely for the way director Ann Hui manages to balance out humour with creepy undertones, without making you feel like it’s a cheap trick.
Why you really need to watch it: The film doesn’t really really try to scare you (which is a good thing), but instead displays its careful character development, even in the midst of madcap horror.
The Boxer’s Omen (1983)
You can’t talk about Hong Kong cinema history without mentioning their gruesome horror films that involve plenty of nudity, gore effects, gross body fluids, and scenes that make you want to hurl. And The Boxer’s Omen is just that. The plot is secondary, really: a man is looking to exact revenge after a botched boxing match that paralyses his brother, but finds out there’s a curse on his family. The real beauty is in the elaborately creative special effects — like when a priestess dissolves into thousands of maggots— to the downright grotesque. I mean, there’s a scene involving someone trying to eat a maggot-ridden chicken carcass in order to revive a corpse. #TrueStory
Why you really need to watch it: Maggot-ridden. Chicken. Carcass.
Troublesome Night (1997)
This is the horror movie that sparked off 18 – yes, eighteen – sequels between 1997 to 2003. But apart from the first three movies (the second being the best), don’t bother marathoning the others because, like Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels, they suck so much you wonder why you even loved the original. Troublesome Night doesn’t have a clever script and includes way too many clichés like never-ending stairwells and creepy twins having fun. But for what it was at that time, this delightful B-grade movie plays off horror in a pastiche yet masterfully horrifying manner that you’ll be simultaenously going “lol what a cliché” and “ok turn the lights on now”.
Why you really need to watch it: Apart from it being a classic, really, watch a young Louis Koo over-act as he starts his foray in the film industry. (Love you still, Louis!)
About the author:
Books, TV, and movies may eat up way too much of Natalie‘s time but thankfully she has four years of writing experience to prove that she’s not a good-for-nothing. And when she’s out of the house, she can be found at a bar arguing fiercely about TV’s best OTP, social issues, and feminism. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @_ochre.