Asia Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand
Considering the profound influence of Asian cinema on almost every form of American movie over the last decade, an at least somewhat serious appraisal would be greatly welcome. Patrick Galloway's Asia Shock isn't that book. While not as heinously infantile in its condescension as Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins' Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, Galloway is prone either to patting Pacific Rim dark-fantasy movies on the head for being so clever or devolving into fanboy gush-speak about how zany they can be. More annoying is the fact that Galloway evidences a healthy amount of scholarship and genuine affection regarding both Asia and its cinemas.
In a neat introduction that teasingly promises a far better book, he concisely limns the pan-Asian preference for the elliptical and purposefully ambiguous, offers a useful brief on Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese cinema history, and touches on sociological malaise affecting those countries that is mirrored in their respective dark cinemas. Hopes are raised that, finally, this will be the book that explains why "extreme" Asian cinema is so extreme these days.
Such hopes are dashed as the book--organized by topics such as "Family," "Technology," "Confinement," and so on--devolves into fetishistic soft-core gore/sex fannishness, unconsidered excitement over that nebulous "transgression" thing, and often irrelevant semi-academia. Movies are introduced by wandering Ebert-like ruminations, bafflingly dense character descriptions, followed by plot synopsis and more ruminations. And so, it takes an entire three pages into the discussion of Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees before Galloway gets around to mentioning who it was directed by (Masahiro Shinoda)--and this after letting us know that that it as based on a novel/play by "Ango Sakaguchi (1906-55)," a fact we should care about why?
Meanwhile, the author can't resist praising actress Yoko Mihara for her work in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion without panting mention of her being "tits up in blood" in a prior movie, while Convent of the Sacred Beast is feted as "jam-packed with exquisite young women in (and frequently out of) habit and wimple."
As these last two examples suggest, Galloway doesn't much discriminate between kitschy exploitation, energetic genre work, and art--and how the three inform one another. And the more you consider Shinya Tsukamoto's techno-sex hallucination Tetsuo, Takashi Miike's increasingly Bergmanesque Oedipal nightmares, or the muted spiritual apocalypses of Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Kairo), the more you wonder why they deserve to be clumped together in one book, region-of-origin aside. Before The Matrix, The Ring, and the career of Quentin Tarantino, to mention just three U.S. phenomena that have drunk deeply at the well of Asian influence, Galloway's reductive approach might be somewhat defensible, but that time is long past.