Monday, August 15, 2016

Comparative Zombiology set in Asia

At the moment, Lao American playwright Saymoukda Vongsay has been doing a lot to explore the concept of zombies through a Lao lens in plays such as Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals and her forthcoming Kung Fu Zombies vs. Shaman Warrior. What other directions might we take the concept?

In addition to some of the older classics such as the Hong Kong movie Biozombie or the Japanese Stacy here are a few other interesting films that may be useful for students of horror and the macabre to examine. How we can explore the concept of the undead and the apocalypse beyond a European American lens? Why would it matter?

Let's take a peek first at Revolt of the Zombies, a 1936 film set primarily in "Cambodia." 

Revolt of the Zombies is a 1936 American film from the Halperin Brothers  It is one of the earliest zombie films in history. It was conceived as a loose sequel to Victor Halperin's moderately successful 1932 film White Zombie.

The Cambodian community didn't have much input into the plot and details of the film, and it shows. While a crew was actually sent to Cambodia to film some establishing shots, they managed to miss filming a traditional Khmer dance, and instead used an actress performing something closer to an Egyptian belly dance. In many ways, it's a product of its time, warts and all, but it's an interesting to consider that at that time, some thought it plausible that the secret to creating zombies could be in a Khmer temple, just waiting for a white man to find it... Well. Whatever.

There are reports that they apparently managed to send a film crew to Cambodia, but while they got a few establishing shots, they didn't get around to filming a Khmer traditional dancer, so keep an eye out for the dance number around the 18-minute mark where they decided an "Egyptian-style" belly dance was apparently same same but different. has a pretty thorough and accurate critique of this deeply flawed film.

Thailand has produced a few interesting additions to the zombie genre, but most recently we've been looking at The Black Death.

The plot is roughly:
When King Bayinnaung led his army to invade, Ayutthaya lost the war after a long continuous battles by 1569 and end her independency. However, some said that the collapse of the Ayutthaya Kingdom could not be explained only by the armies from Hongsawadi. They said that the cause might be the “Black Death” that wipe out the residents. In a small village in Ayuthhaya, while people are frightened by the war and some left their home to safety, some stayed behind and faced the coming of the catastrophe that can be counted as the last straw which would shake all morale and endlessly lit up the fear of the people. The body of Toon the blacksmith’s assistant and a big strong person, was found with many animal bite-like wounds and some other villagers were dead without any reasonable causes, and the body counts kept on increasing. Some blamed the hungry ghosts, some blamed the plague that came with the Portuguese. But nobody could find out the real cause until all the corpses transformed themselves into a kind of living dead called ‘The Black Death’ who fearlessly bit and ate the villagers, even the monks can not exorcised them, no herbs nor medicine will cure them, no weapon will ever stop them.

For an interesting example of night and day, here's the trailer for the UK film The Dead 2: India that was also making the rounds for a while on the Syfy channel:

Compare and contrast it to the Indian film from that same year, Rise of the Zombie, where there's a clear tonal shift and approach to presenting the Indian community under threat by a Zombie apocalypse. Presently, the consensus has been that this wasn't an all-time classic, but I think it's more interesting to see how the Indian community handled the genre both behind the camera and in front of it.

They even have a Zom-Com with Go Goa Gone which managed to escape much of the poverty-porn that The Dead 2: India featured.

Meanwhile, Korea is also putting forward an entry this year into the zombie genre, Train to Busan. The plot is said to be that of a harrowing zombie horror-thriller that "follows a group of terrified passengers fighting their way through a countrywide viral outbreak while trapped on a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to Busan, a southern resort city that has managed to hold off the zombie hordes... or so everyone hopes."

What are some other suggestions you have for interesting Asian takes on the zombie phenomenon?

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