Hong Kong – Making Horror funny

Settling in for another night watching Asian Horror I thought I’d be brave and go it alone.

I was curious what might be South Korea’s take on horror movies, considering the horror they have lived through. Also I wanted the movie to be of the same standard as my last expedition into horror; this was the movie ‘Audition’. Alas due to my downloading prowess being dismal I resorted to finding the most appealing Asian horror (non-Japanese, because I had already done that) movie I could find on Netflix.

My search led me to quite enjoyable ‘Visible secret’ – chosen because of its ambiguous title, classic 90’s cover photo (totes popular right now) and the genre is Horror Comedy, which gave me more of a fighting chance to digest it safely on my own.

As it played I kept thinking ‘this is fresh from the 90’s’ -The characters are bold and unapologetic like Buffy or even Sidney from Scream, but also dorky and ridiculous like Buffy or Sidney from Scream. The plot moves quickly, you get to breeze through decapitation scenes right on to ghost possession, encapsulating fun with the use of quirky dialogue and clumsily action scenes, just like the 90’s!

As it turns out though, this recurring obsession I had with the 90’s during the ‘Visible Secret’, would be the only thing that came back to haunt me (pun intended).

Every time I looked at the lighting in a street scene, images reminiscent of ‘Ghost Busters’ would come traipsing back into my head. I was totally pre-occupied with how ‘western’ the movie seemed, even the comedic styles looked to me like a poor man’s version of Friends. I felt my fate was sealed, ‘I’ve been tainted’ I thought, ‘doomed to characterise everything in western tropes’ (yes, in my head I am very academic and pompous).

The despair came from not wanting to see the film ironically. I wanted to like it because of its skill, not because it was accidently funny.

‘Searching for truth’ in the East as Sean Redman puts it (The Cinema of Takeshi Kitano Flowering Blood 2013 p.4) was my mission and I’d failed. So I looked to the celebrity of the film to find out what background information was securing a truthful depiction to Eastern audiences.

Ann Hui is the film’s critically acclaimed director, known for her work in what is termed ‘Hong Kong New Wave’, and one of its most prolific contributors.

Conducting some research beyond Wikipedia, Ann Hui is quite notable for her work on films about social critique that challenge the government and also investigate the concept of identity. That being said, I think horror comedy may be isn’t her genre. ‘Visible Secret’ I think would be viewed with more understanding by someone who had grown up in Hong Kong, but still it doesn’t seem like anything anyone would particular rate, not matter what culture you’re coming form.

Reflecting on this again, I think my 90’s obsession might have actually been beneficial for helping me attain more enjoyment, by giving me a stand point to measure what was meant to be serious writing and instead placing an ironic edge around it.

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3 comments

  1. I think part of the enjoyment of watching films from other cultures is that we won’t understand it all, and so fill in the blanks so to speak with things we are familiar with from our own culture or our misunderstandings of the other culture. Like I found watching Dark Water, it was my limited understanding of the culture that made it so interesting and inviting.

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  2. Following Nathan’s thought, perhaps you should revisit the film later in the semester and identify what you still don’t understand and what you do. Whenever I view foreign films I always feel like some of it is lost in translation. The title ‘ The Visible Secret’ even sounds like a poor translation. But to begin, I can never tell how believable an actor is acting when they’re speaking in another language. I’ve always wondered, if I wasn’t distracted by bad acting, how many foreign films have I really enjoyed are actually embarrassing for anyone that understands the language. It makes me question how much, beyond the subtitles, am I missing about the film due to my disconnection with its culture.

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  3. It seems a bit of lost in translation may have occurred as you raised the point that perhaps if you grew up in Hong Kong the film might seem more relevant to its genre. I reckon you could investigate further into that point as many of us would have the experience of finding certain foreign films confusing due to the entitled genre. I know I experience this watching Bollywood films, the exaggerated tone always feels like more of a comedy or spoof film, however Indian and Pakistani audiences view the scenes as dramatic and captivating.
    I always love analysing the differences in experiences due to cultural upbringing, it brings in a lot of interesting stories and experiences!

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