Asian Horror Films Based on Haunting Urban Legends
One of the main foundations of horror films are the premise and integrity of its plot and sometimes, just for the sake of giving the films an extra creep factor, most plots are based on urban legends. It may either be supernatural legends, hauntings and so on and so forth. The perfect movie example for this is, you guessed it, 1998’s Urban Legend. Personally, Urban Legend and its sequel back in 2000, were few of the films that really got me into the horror genre and the whole ground of paranormal (and non-paranormal) phenomenon. Now, below are the countries, their respective urban legends and the films that adapted these stories. It’s adventure time!
Urban Legends: Teke-Teke, Hikiko-san
Japan is notorious for its immense amount of urban legends and the films that adapt these myths. Hell, it’s in every anime series, manga novels, films, etc. etc. Even without the popularity of the media, Japanese urban legends itself are known all over. You yourself probably know these stories: the Slit-Mouthed Woman (Kuchisake-onna), Red Cloak/Red Cape (Manto) or Hanako of the Toilet (Toire no Hanako-san). Here are two films that adapted even crazier and scarier legends than the mentioned:
1. Teketeke (2009) is a Japanese film about a group of high school girls trying to clear the mystery of the urban legend, “Teke-Teke”. It centers upon a hapless woman who was sliced in half when she fell off a platform in Hokkaido and under an oncoming train. Enraged by her unpredicted fate, the upper half of her body now roams as spirit, searching for her lower half and making a “teke-teke” sound as she crawls around with her now claw-like arms. In the film, if you hear this story, you will see her lower half aimlessly walking around the countryside in a matter of three days… but if you happen to see her itself, your impending doom will also occur in three days.
2. Urban Legend Story: Hikiko is a Japanese 3D CG-animated film about Hikiko-san or also known as the “bullied ghost”. Hikiko was violently treated by her parents and elementary schoolmates all the time and because of the constant bullying, she became physically deformed. Eventually she was beaten to death and as a vengeful spirit, she caught the students and would drag them on the floor until they’re mutilated. The urban legend story itself is quite a little different though: aside from the dragging-them-across-the-floor story, “Hikiko-san” was seen as a little girl dragging a teddy bear but when the victim looked a little closer, she is seen dragging a dead human body. When the victim ran off, she unfortunately tripped and was dragged and decapitated by Hikiko.
Country: Hong Kong
Urban Legends: Eating Fetuses, Suicidal Pregnant Woman
We’ve all heard the stories on Facebook and subsequent forums about the messed up urban legends the people in Hong Kong and Mainland China believe in. Whether it be supernatural or not, you can’t help but give a straight face that clearly said “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” Good (and disturbing) examples are the need to eat either cats or dogs for their medicinal properties and its ability to promote bodily warmth and hair bands made out of used condoms. Luckily, there aren’t any films that adapted these condom hair band stories or the sort.
1. Dumplings is the 2004 full-length feature of Fruit Chan’s Three… Extremes Hong Kong segment of the same name. The film’s plot pretty much takes on the foundation of the well-known legends of cannibalism and that aborted fetuses can restore beauty, youth and even increase fertility. In the film, Mrs. Li is dismayed that her good looks are fading and wanting passion from her husband, discovers that he is having an affair with his younger and more attractive masseuse. In desperation, she seeks out the help of Aunt Mei who cooks her some special “dumplings” that claims to be effective for rejuvenation.
2. The Eye 2 is also another noted 2004 film. Directed by the Pang brothers, it centers on the age-old urban legend that a pregnant woman who attempts suicide will have their baby possessed by the spirit of another woman. In the film, after a failed attempt with sleeping pills, Joy starts becoming delusional and emotionally unstable. She sees the spirits of dead people and is constantly stalked by a mysterious ghost woman whom she believes is trying to hurt her unborn baby. If I go any further, I’m going to ruin the story for those who haven’t seen The Eye 2.
Urban Legends: Balete Drive, Tiyanak
The Filipino culture is not a stranger to urban legends and paranormal myths. Just like Japan, the Philippines is popular for its records and stories of urban myths that creep in the dark and snatch you from your bed; like the Mananaggal (or Penanggal in Malaysia) or the nefarious Aswang. Err’body knows that!
1. Tiyanaks is a 2007 Filipino horror about a group of students led by their professor on a Holy Week retreat. Getting lost on the way, they come upon a derelict house and have no choice but to set up camp inside. Little do they know, the house is infested with those who seem to be innocent children but are creatures who are out to get them. The story of the Tiyanak varies in different parts of the Philippines but the most common version is that the Tiyanak is the spirit of a child who died in childbirth or either the spirit of a child whose mother died during childbirth. They basically take the form of a newborn baby or a child (obviously) and cries in abandoned places to attract unwary travellers. Once picked by the victim, it turns into a creature and attacks the defenseless traveller.
2. Ang Hiwaga sa Balete Drive is a 1988 film that tells of a young woman who died during the Spanish Colonial Era and her spirit, now a White Lady, roams the Balete Drive looking for her undying love. The myth of Balete Drive has been circulating since the early 50s and according to legend, a long-haired woman in a white dress roams the area. Origins of how the White Lady came to be have many versions but it all goes down to death by accident. Most stories about the Whilte Lady were told by cab drivers and solitary people driving by that street late in the night. She would either ask for a ride or would be seen briefly in the rear-view mirror. Although, some documented accidents on Balete Drive arbitrate on the White Lady’s apparitions.
Urban Legend: Mae Nak Phra Khanong, Chiang Mai Estate
The film industry of Thailand is possibly known for its artistic horror films that involves treachery, lust, occult rituals and dismembering body parts. Lots and lots of body parts. I could actually count the films that have “minimum” levels of gore… can you?
1. Nang Nak is 1999 romantic tragedy horror film (wow, they merged that one real good) about the life of a devoted ghost wife and his unsuspecting husband. It’s one of Thailand’s most popular myth because of its influence of undying love to people of all ages. In the myth, Mek was conscripted and sent to fight in the war (to which war, it is not specified due to the variations of what war he was sent to) thus leaving his pregnant wife at home. Upon his return, he sees his wife and child waiting but unaware that they already dead. Those who try to warn Mek are killed at night by Nak. The film follows the urban legend line by line but with the difference at the ending.
2. Laddaland is a popular 2011 horror flick about a family who moves into a new estate called Laddaland. Upon their move, strange activities and paranormal events begin to terrorize the family. The film is actually based on a supposedly haunted housing estate in Chiang Mai, Thailand and about a family of four who moves into one of the houses. Not far from the myth itself, eh? Doesn’t it also vaguely remind you of the first season of American Horror Story and, oh I don’t know… Poltergeist? As such, the legend of the estates in Chiang Mai have caused quite a stir amongst bloggers and some tourists even actually flocked to these places to give it a good see. Now, that’s real adventure time.
Urban Legends: Kuntilanak, Jelangkung
It took me quite a while to absorb enough research on common Indonesian urban myths and legends. With most of their mythos going way far back, Indonesia also shares common legends with neighboring countries like Philippines and Malaysia.
1. Kuntilanak is a 2006 Indonesian horror based on the urban legend of the Kuntilanak or Pontianak. The film follows Sam, who is constantly pestered by recurring nightmares and the perverted advances of her step-father, moves out and stays at a seemingly haunted boarding house. In her nightmares, she frequently sees a white-haired creature combing her hair. Eventually, strange phenomemon start to occur in the boarding house… accompanied with a series of unexplained murders. The Kuntilanak or Pontianak is depicted as a pale-skinned woman with long hair and dressed in sheer white and is said to be the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant. I’ve got to say, the Kuntilanak is perhaps the most fierce and bloody urban mythereature (myth + creature, made that one up :D) I’ve ever heard of. Due to its beauty, it preys on unfaithful men. It digs into the stomach of the victim and devours its organs and in some cases, if seeking revenge against a male, it’ll rip out the poor bastard’s Bone of Destiny. In other variations, if your eyes are open when it is near, the kuntilanak will suck them right out of your head. Literal brain juice.
2. The 2001 horror film Jelangkung (English titled “The Uninvited) is another Indonesia film about four young friends investigating urban legends and the supernatural hauntings in Jakarta. Unsatisfied with their recent findings, they decided to embark on a more challenging phenomena in West Java. There, they meddle with an ouija board-type object called the Jelangkung to call in spirits that changes their lives upon their return to the city. In stories, the Jelangkung is a puppet used as a medium to call a spirit in a ritual. Just like an ouija board, the Jelangkung is used to get in contact with those who are dead and is sometimes used as a mode of entertainment for idiotic dare-loving youths. Seriously, how many times must they be told? Children shouldn’t play with dead things! See what I did there? 😉
Country: South Korea
Urban Legends: Cosmetic Sesame, Bunshinsaba
You’d think I would forget all about South Korea, eh? Well, you’re wrong. I’m saving the best for last. Why? Because you’re about to embark on some creepy-ass info that will send chills up your spine and your hair standing on ends. Seriously, just thinking about it now is giving me the creepy crawlies. Let alone trying to construct sensible paragraphs about it. Uck. You have been warned.
1. Evil Twin is a 2007 horror film about a twist-centered film about twin sisters who were involved in an accident that took the life of one of them and the other in a coma. Ten years later, the surviving twin wakes up and somehow takes on her sister’s personality traits. The film isn’t based on a full described urban legend but one specific scene is based on the creepiest, spine-twitching, gut-pressing myth ever: The Cosmetic Sesame. Oh, you’ve never heard of it? Well, Cosmetic Sesame is about a girl who was worried about her skin getting wrinkly. She’s basically like Ririko of Helter Skelter only with old cosmetic practices. She heard that putting sesame seeds in the water of your bath will be good for your skin. So, she started it right away. She stayed in the bath for hours, only saying “just a moment” everytime someone tried to enter. Suspicious, her mother forces the door open and is shocked to see that every wrinkle and pore was covered with all the sesame seeds. It even started to grow roots. Extra gross. The girl seemed like she was losing her mind as she frantically tried to remove the seeds with a toothpick. You’re welcome 😉
2. Bunshinsaba is a film about three friends who are constantly bullied by their classmates. Intending to exact their revenge, they decided to use Bunshinsaba and to put a curse on those who bullied them. Little did they know, the curse will be doing more than just terrorizing the bullies. Bunshinsaba is an old myth and like Indonesia’s Jelangkung, it is an ouija board-type ritual. On the board, you write the names of the people who have wronged you and use the Bunshinsaba curse on them and to call the spirits who will do the bidding. Although, the only condition is to not open your eyes until the spell is finished. It’s like a snail mail of Death Note.
Urban Legends: Karak Highway, Cameron Highlands
1. Karak was Malaysia’s addition to the horror genre last 2011. It is about a group of 5 people stuck in massive traffic jam in the infamous Karak Highway. Fed up and annoyed, the group decides to use an old road that takes them to the Karak town where, obviously, magical haunting things happen. In Malaysia, Karak is a real town in the south of Pahang near Selangor. Its highway goes right through the Titiwangsa Mountains to the Middle of Peninsular Malaysia, connecting the West and East Coast of the country. A little geography too, eh? 😀 Like Philippines’ Balete Drive, the highway is well known for its countless horrific incidents and urban legends that eventually was made into this movie. The urban legend of Karak Highway is a more generalized topic with variations of stories and encounters passed on by word of mouth. If you’re interested, you can read one of them here.
2. Darkest Night is a 2012 horror film based on the gruesome news of a family who mysteriously disappeared while on vacation at Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. In cooperation with the Philippine film industry, Darkest Night is presented as a “docu-drama” by a TV announcer. It follows an upscale Filipino family on a Christmas trip in the Sagada Mountains. Suddenly, unexpectedly cut off from the world outside, the family members die one by one in horrific ways. What’s great about this film is its diversity in both cast and crew and how it is based on actual facts with an urban myth that predates the birth of modern urban legends: Baphomet.
Thus this concludes my really long list of the few films based on haunting Asian urban legends. I hope you guys enjoyed every inch of it. Oh, if you’re brave enough, I dare you to read Cosmetic Sesame here. You’re welcome. Again.