Header images courtesy of New Zealand International Film Festival and Letterboxd
Has 2021 not been scary enough for you? If you can stomach stories even more frightful than how some countries around the world are badly mishandling the global pandemic, you’ll want to put the following horror films on your watch list. Hong Kong’s film industry is well respected for its prolific history, acclaimed works, and outstanding actors. It is no surprise then that we have also churned out our fair share of horror flicks. From gore and thriller to dark comedies, here are the best classic Hong Kong horror films to watch this Halloween. Trigger warning: Needless to say, if horror and gore are difficult themes for you to handle, it’s best to give this round-up a big skip.
A film about delicious food this is not. Starring a powerful trio of veteran actors Miriam Yeung, Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Bai Ling in the main roles, Dumplings is a cult classic that first premiered in Germany during the Berlin International Film Festival. Deceptively named, the Fruit Chan-directed horror film centres around Aunt Mei, a former gynaecologist who now makes a living off of preparing special dumplings that miraculously restore youth to those who ingest them. Desperate to recapture the attention of her unfaithful husband, Mrs Li seeks the help of Aunt Mei, but baulks when she discovers the crucial ingredient that gives the rejuvenating dumplings their power: unborn fetuses. Her misgivings are soon forgotten, however, when she realises how potent the dumplings are. She demands Aunt Mei to keep finding more in order to retain her youth, leading to disastrous consequences.
Directed by the Pang brothers, The Eye is a Hong Kong classic, and so well-received that it spawned a 2008 Hollywood remake starring Jessica Alba and Parker Posey. It follows the story of classical violinist Wong Kar-mun, who has been blind since childhood. She undergoes surgery after receiving a pair of eyes from a donor but soon realises that her sight comes with troubling visions of gruesome deaths. Along with a psychotherapist, she travels to Thailand to find the eye donor to get to the bottom of these psychic abilities.
It should not come as a surprise that the success of The Eye drove the Pang brothers to produce two more sequels. Among them, it’s The Eye 10 that we think is worth mentioning. Set in both Thailand and Hong Kong, the film follows a group of five friends, who become engrossed in a mysterious book called The 10 Encounters. Eager to start playing the game described inside, which details ways to see ghosts and spirits, the five friends disregard the warning that says they must complete the game or be haunted forever. Not long after, one of the five friends suddenly disappears in the middle of the game, setting the others on a quest to save him.
Starring the inimitable Chow Yun-fat, Witch from Nepal is one of many supernatural films that achieved remarkable success in the 1980s, dominating the Hong Kong silver screens with a growing trend of tales about Chinese tourists in exotic South Asian locations. While not so much gore and horror as it is a mixture of paranormal and gothic themes, it is nonetheless a worthy watch.
While vacationing in Nepal with his girlfriend, protagonist Joe Wong injures himself and is sent to the hospital. While there, he dreams of a veiled woman with mystical powers. As his injuries worsen, he is sent back to Hong Kong for treatment, where he meets a witch named Sheila, the same one from his dreams, who reveals to him that he is the chosen one to battle a great evil. She magically heals him and grants him superhuman powers in the process, and brings him back to Nepal to help defeat a demon to save a Himalayan tribe.
Lest you have forgotten, Hong Kong boy and girl groups used to be all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Certainly, this trend may have peaked somewhere with the production of The Death Curse, which was put together for no other purpose than to further capitalise on the popularity of two of the biggest home-grown music duos at the time: Twins and Boy’z. Starring the fearsome foursome of Gillian Chung, Charlene Choi, Steven Cheung, and Kenny Kwan, The Death Curse is a fluffy blend of Asian horror and slapstick antics. In the film, spoilt Nancy is inspired to reunite with the family of her long-lost father on the promise of an inheritance, meeting a legion of half-siblings and relatives she does not care for in the process. Cue a haunted house, people getting possessed, a whole host of paranormal occurrences, and you’ve got yourself a humorous, Scooby Doo-like attempt at horror.
Trigger warning: This film deals with disturbing themes and imagery. More exploitation and gore than pure horror, it’s not difficult to guess what Ebola Syndrome is all about. This Herman Yau-directed feature centres around a serial rapist and wanted murderer (Anthony Wong). Having fled Hong Kong, he now lives and works in South Africa and contracts the deadly disease after committing some truly atrocious acts. As a living carrier, he becomes an unstoppable superspreader, passing on the virus to others through body fluids and starting an outbreak, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
As the most recent production on this list, some might think that Rigor Mortis is too “new” to be considered a classic, but this award-winning film certainly deserves a spot on this list. Helmed by Juno Mak, a multi-talented Hong Kong singer, record producer, actor, and director, Rigor Mortis pays tribute to the 1980s goeng-si (殭屍; a Chinese hopping vampire) film genre. In the film, a depressed man moves into a public housing tenement building and sparks a series of supernatural events with chaotic consequences, bringing together vampire hunters, black magicians, and undead creatures in a dramatic showdown.
And we’ll finish off this spooktacular round-up with a lighthearted classic: In this whimsical feature that combines martial arts, romance, comedy, and horror, Ning Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) is a timid tax collector who travels across the country for his job. One night, he decides to take shelter in an abandoned temple, where he meets a maiden named Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong) and immediately falls in love. He soon discovers that she is, in fact, a ghost who is bound to serve a malevolent demon. Aided by a Taoist warrior, Ning embarks on a journey into the supernatural realm to save his one true love. Fun fact: Not only did A Chinese Ghost Story ignite a trend of folklore ghost films in the Hong Kong film industry, but it also propelled Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong to stardom around Asia.