Halloween movie special: Hong Kong's top 10 horror films

The season of the witch is almost here – the perfect time to put the frighteners on your friends and family with some authentic chills and thrills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 12:34pm

Halloween is on the way and our thoughts naturally turn to horror - and to Hong Kong cinema's rich and varied history with the genre.

Over the decades, the city's filmmakers have always been happy to plunder when it comes to source material - sometimes lifting not just bits and pieces from other films but whole scenes, while also throwing distinctly local flavours into the mix.

See also: If you want blood... 10 gruesome cinematic slashers to get you in the mood for Halloween

For sure, there have been as many misses as hits, but horror Hong Kong style has never been anything less than entertaining.

Here are 10 classics sure to set pulses racing.

Bio-Zombie, 1998

Director: Wilson Yip Wai-shun

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then zombie filmmaker extraordinaire George A. Romero must have been blushing when Wilson Yip Wai-shun gathered his cast inside a shopping mall and ranged the forces of the undead against them. Splatfest doesn't begin to describe the mayhem that follows. Yip doesn't so much borrow from Romero as restage entire set pieces from his more famous films. But the zombies could only have been made in Hong Kong. You know the shocks are coming before they hit the screen, but they make you squirm all the same. Cheap and very nasty indeed, but that's all part of its charm.

A Chinese Ghost Story, 1987

Director: Ching Siu-tung

It's fair to say that only the Hong Kong film industry in its prime would have attempted to combine horror, romance and comedy -and to make it all seem so natural. Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing and Joey Wong Cho-yee are the pair whose love blossoms despite the fact she is dead. Even the fact that she tries to lure him into the afterworld doesn't seem to matter as Cheung's character - passions stirred even though they can never fully be sated - tries to help free her from purgatory. The frights have been tempered by the passage of time, but not the magic.

Dream Home, 2010

Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Biting satire mixed up with sheer brutality mean this film is not for everyone's tastes, but there's no denying you are taken on one wild ride. Josie Ho Chiu-yi shines as the young woman whose dreams of owning her own home are constantly thwarted by forces that might be familiar to many Hongkongers. Banks and estate agents come in for a well-deserved kicking. Pang Ho-cheng and company seem intent on pushing the boundaries of taste to their extremes, but don't be deceived by all the blood and gore: there are some important social messages here if you have the stomach for them.

Dumplings, 2004

Director: Fruit Chan Gor

The joy in any Fruit Chan production is the director's fondness for his hometown and its citizens' many foibles. They are writ large here in the shape of Miriam Yeung Chin-wah as a woman who will do anything she can to maintain her youth and vigour. Chan likes to paint his characters as grotesques, amplifying through his exaggerations just how alike we all can be. Yeung, released from the primping and pouting normally associated with her performances, is a delight and the fear is amplified by the recognition that we can all be pushed to extremes when threatened with the loss of the things we (rightly or wrongly) value in life.

The Eye, 2002

Directors: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Phat

It's hard to watch this now and not wonder what might have been. The Pang brothers announced their talent to the world with this inventive, often terrifying tale of a woman (Angelica Lee Sin-je) who has a corneal transplant but soon finds out her new powers are so much more than just physical. She's been denied sight, but then is horrified by the realities of the world she must now witness as it comes into focus. There's genius in the film's slow and sinister burn but a sadness, too, that this is as good as we have got so far from the brothers.

Horror Hotline: Big Head Monster, 2001

Director: Soi Cheang Pou-soi

The English title gives the game away, but the tease director Soi Cheang Pou-soi plays out is whether or not we'll ever get to properly meet the poor little blighter. Josie Ho Chiu-yi is a master when it comes to looking terrified - here we find her as a young woman obsessed with a videotape as a means by which her own demons can be revealed and, she hopes, exorcised. She is haunted by her past and Soi draws the tension out in a manner sure to test even the sturdiest of nerves. It's a creepfest - and Ho has a scream to shake the rafters.

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, 1974

Directors: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh

A bizarre mash-up of genres that draws on the expertise of Britain's Hammer Studios and its long history of horror, and combines those with Shaw Brothers' stable of martial arts stars. The end result is a sometimes baffling production that goes wonderfully over the top, as Count Dracula (here played by John Forbes-Roberston, not Christopher Lee as was the norm in a Hammer production) finds out he needs to travel to China if he is to survive. That's when the action kicks in and Chang Cheh obviously lent his hand. A slice of pure B-grade madness.

Mr Vampire, 1985

Director: Ricky Lau

Ricky Lau's smash hit set the template for the horror-comedy genre Hong Kong has championed ever since. Leaning heavily on the jiangshi - "jumping vampires" - that have haunted the city's collective dreams for generations, Lau presents the great Lam Ching-ying as a Taoist priest who gets more than he bargains for when he opens up a coffin. Seen now, it is at times both wonderfully camp and deliciously macabre, as the forces of darkness invade the everyday lives of the common folk. But the morals Lau mocks - greed included - make it timeless.

Rigor Mortis, 2013

Director: Juno Mak

We always suspected there is more to Juno Mak than meets the eye, and the sometime singer's directorial debut reveals his smarts. Admittedly, this wasn't quite the success the trailers and concept promised, but it's a stylish and often unsettling homage to the vampire genre nonetheless. Mak gathers the stars of those films - among them Chin Siu-hou as a down-at-heel actor who brushes up a little too close to the afterworld. There are enough individual moments of sinister style to cover over the cracks - and the evil twin sisters who stalk the story's fringes will keep you awake at night.

Visible Secret, 2001

Director: Ann Hui On-wah

For a director best-known for multilayered and socially aware character studies, Ann Hui On-wah makes a pretty decent fist of things here by simply playing to her strengths. On the surface we meet a man (Eason Chan Yick-shun) who becomes obsessed with a woman (Shu Qi - can't blame him) who can see ghosts. Creepy enough on its own, but things go up a notch when he picks up the skill himself and all manner of nasty frights ensue. Look a little harder into the shadows, though, and you might just find a lament for a city that's full of lost souls and searching for its own.