Most recent post in Film

Chinese horror films: It was all just a dream

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Curse of the Deserted

Satisfying horror movies are difficult to come by in China. Film censors on the mainland frown on the supernatural, nor do they look kindly on serial murders.

In a recent essay inspired by the complicated narrative slight-of-hand that allowed the recent horror film Curse of the Deserted to dodge these sensitive issues altogether, film critic Yang Jian (杨戬) explains how film regulations have handicapped Chinese horror films, not just in the context of world cinema, but when compared to domestic literature and online gaming as well.

Curse of the Deserted (荒村公寓) is an adaptation of a best-selling novel by thriller writer Cai Jun, who has had previous experience with having his work neutered on the big screen. For the mainland release of Naraka 19, the 2007 adaptation of Cai’s The 19th Level of Hell (地狱第19层), the title was changed to The 19th Space (第十九层空间) and an alternate ending was tacked on to resurrect the dead characters and erase the mystery.

The horror of the unknown is unavailable to Chinese-language horror films, writes Yang. Movies are forced to come up with devices to explain away the supernatural. In some films, everything was just a dream or drug-induced hallucination. In others, scientific technobabble is awkwardly inserted into the conclusion. Still others wrap the entire plot in a framing story. Regardless of the technique used, these explanations sap the unknown of its power to frighten and prevents Chinese horror cinema from reaching its full potential.

Curse of the Deserted and the Future of Chinese Horror Cinema

by Yang Jian / Sohu

If a horror film desires to succeed at the box office, it naturally requires “artistic truth” rather than undermining its own credibility. Curse of the Deserted, adapted from Cai Jun’s novel of the same name and helmed by Hong Kong director Chi-Leung Law who directs Shawn Yue, Kitty Zhang, and Yue Xiaojun in a predominantly mainland cast, wraps layers within layers like that old chestnut: “Once there was a mountain, and on the mountain was a temple. In the temple was an old monk, who told a young monk a story.”* After several rounds of this, the horror evaporates completely, and it’s obvious that the Film Bureau’s demand for “no ghosts” has cemented the structure of the film. China has countless classic stories and legends, as well as new novels, all of which could be tapped as material for horror films, but the “Regulations on Film Management” and the “Management Provisions on Project Initiation of Film Scripts (Treatments) and on the Examination of Films” have unfortunately restricted the genre’s narrative space.

 
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