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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #8 (February 20, 2007), page 13 & 20.
A knowledgeable, accessible guide to the dark corners of Asian film
Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from
Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand
By Patrick Galloway
Stone Bridge Press, 2006
Paperback, 211 pages, $19.95
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
Patrick Galloway, Oregon’s top critic of Asian film, is at it again, and he’s moving in a new — to say nothing of terrifying and unsettling — direction. But don’t worry, as these adjectives describe his disturbing subject matter and not his fresh, inviting approach to it. We last saw him explicating the neglected samurai film genre in Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves, but now Galloway is turning his formidable talents towards a more contemporary genre, one which has received even less critical attention: Asian horror movies. Just as with Stray Dogs, Galloway has produced a book full of wit, wisdom, and vital information, all told in his entertaining and flowing prose, making Asia Shock delightful for fans and essential to students of extreme Asian film.
Although the East has always produced frightening films, the genre has exploded in the past decade, reaching across the Pacific to spawn new fans in the West. As Galloway points out in his introduction, 1997 was a turnaround year for Asian horror films, due to factors ranging from the Asian financial crisis to the release of several blockbuster horror flicks. Galloway also explains elements of dark cinema (his term for these disturbing Asian films) that might be unfamiliar to Westerners, including the nature of Eastern ghosts, the embrace of ambiguity by Asian audiences, and the taboo busting that defines this film category.
This no-holds-barred spirit represents both the fundamental attraction and repulsion of dark cinema, as its advocates embrace its gore and obsession with death (and more unspeakable acts such as torture, rape, and incest), even as the material sometimes appalls them. Rather than offering a broad overview of all these films, Galloway restricts his vision to the best, those that are more than just shocking gore-fests. In Galloway’s words, "There is a quality to each film, a luminescence cutting through the miasma of depravity and dementia — the shining light of sublimely shocking art!"
This guide is stuffed with such crackling writing, just as it is crammed with over fifty classic films (as well as its share of bodies, body parts, and the creatively disgusting things people do with both). Galloway’s treatment of each film not only reveals his incredible depth and breadth of knowledge about Asian films, it also shows his abiding love for both film and genre. He writes film reviews the way reviewers like this one long to: with passion, intelligence, and a galloping, fluid, compelling style that makes you want to run out and watch each film right after reading it.
Galloway has arranged his reviews under seven categories that loosely group them together and reveal the subtle psychological and social forces at work behind them. This is helpful, because Asian dark cinema often defies simple genre classification, and some films are mash-ups of comedy, horror, pornography, and martial arts. He has also chosen films that are widely available, providing several suggestions about how to buy or rent them. One caution about the book: his language and the photographs reflect the unblinking nature of the films he is reviewing, so this is likely not a book you want your eight-year-old thumbing through. But his use of both language and photographs is always enlightening and never feels gratuitous.
Galloway’s choice of photographs is also much stronger than in Stray Dogs, which often showed theater posters of the movies, not a terribly helpful way to see much about the film itself. Asia Shock has many more action stills and headshots of the characters, though my one knock on the book is the illustrations that substitute for hard-to-find photos. There are but a few of these line drawings, but they tell us little about the movies and are mostly poorly imagined reproductions of famous scenes. Illustrator Greg Lofrano has created some very nice icons to accompany Galloway’s shorter capsule reviews, but his other artwork simply doesn’t show the same attention to perspective and detail.
But this is the only bad thing I can say about Asia Shock, and it is far from a crippling blow. The book is a must-have for any fan of the genre, and will educate anyone about the subtleties and undercurrents of dark cinema. Galloway’s extensive indexing and cross-referencing of actors and directors allows Asia Shock to be used in a scholarly context, too, hardly surprising given his encyclopedic knowledge of Asian film. But whether you’re reading it to find pleasure, pain, or support for a research paper, Asia Shock belongs on your bookshelf — preferably close to your television and DVD collection, where it will quickly become a well-thumbed reference.
Patrick Galloway will appear at Powell’s City of Books, located at 1005 West Burnside Street in Portland, on Sunday, March 11 at 7:30pm. For information, call (503) 228-4651 or visit <www.powells.com>.