There is something to be said for the sheer craziness of zombie films that come from Asia; while the western template for the zombie film has stood stock for years (pick two zombie movies; their plots are, at their core, similar), Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai filmmakers have taken more chances with the zombie genre. Now that is not to say that all Asian zombie films are better/different than those zombie films made in the west, but Asian horror cinema is usually where the zombie film fan has to go in order to see something innovative and new. Or weird. Very, very weird.
What has been compiled here is a list of zombie films from around Asia (three Japanese, one from Hong Kong & one Thai) which I think that, as a zombie fan, you should try and see, if only for the sheer crazy spectacle of it. My recommendations are also entirely based on sub-titled versions of these films (save for one), because dubbing is evil.
1) Helldriver AKA Nihon bundan: Heru doraiba (2010)
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The newest film on this list, Helldriver is a gore fest from director Yoshihiro Nishimura (of Tokyo Gore Police fame) about antlered zombies and the girl who has to stop them with a katana shaped chainsaw. It involves a “schoolgirl” named Kika (Yumiko Hara) who is attacked by her mother Rikka (Eihi Shiina, an actress you may recognize from her fantastically creepy role in Audition), a cannibalistic serial killer. Kika is ‘saved’ by a meteorite that smashes through Rikka’s heart, but Rikka rips Kika’s heart out as a replacement. Then some space ash bursts out of Rikka and falls on northern Japan, turning anyone who inhaled it into a zombie with a weird antler face:
Kika is reanimated by a secret organization, and dropped into the infected side of Japan (the government having built a wall to separate the infected and uninfected sides of the country) to fight her way to her mother, who has proclaimed herself the ‘Queen of the Zombies’ because…yes. There are other characters, and a side-plot about the Japanese government arguing about zombie-human rights, and another about the sale of zombie antler as an illicit drug…something…but if you are watching Helldriver you are watching it for the zombie gore. The plot exists mainly to drive you from one action set-piece to the next, and sometimes even does it in a car made entirely of zombie parts (which you can see in the above trailer), and that is not even the most ludicrously awesome thing that gets built out of zombies, but I have to leave somethings unspoiled for you to see yourselves.
While the budget does affect the special effects, the makeup for the zombies serves its purpose, and there is plenty (gallons) of blood and gore throughout. While the film can drag a little bit in its 117 minutes, it is worth it just for the sheer volume of everything.
2) Kung Fu Zombie AKA Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui (1982)
In brief, Kung Fu Zombie is an old school, so-bad-it-is-good Hong Kong kung fu movie where the villain comes into town in order to kill Pang (martial artist Billy Chong) but instead of doing it himself, the villain gets a Taoist priest/wizard to raise zombies to do the job for him, and things go horribly awry.
Look, I could tell you all about this one, or you could just watch it:
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Kung Fu Zombie is one of those films that we are lucky enough to have a full version of on YouTube, although it is dubbed; however, while I am generally anti-dubbing when it comes to foreign films, there is something awesome about 1980s kung fu movie dubbing, as it really adds a layer to the hilariousness of these old movies.
While this is the least ‘zombie’ of these zombie films on this list, Kung Fu Zombie is an unintentionally funny mash-up of 1980s cult kung fu movies and the supernatural zombie genre, and another good example of the difference in tone and genre that only Asian cinema can bring to the zombie genre.
3) Battlefield Baseball AKA Jigoku Kôshien (2003)
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Battlefield Baseball is a film which satirizes sports films (and the Japanese obsession with baseball) and adds in some ridiculous, over the top zombie horror. The plot…OK…again, while I promise there is a plot, it is paper thin and a bit hard to follow; this is another film where you have to embrace the weirdness, and just be in for the ride.
Battlefield Baseball revolves around the Seido High School baseball team making it to the Koshien Stadium tournament, but dismay to find themselves facing the Gedo High School team, who do not so much play baseball, as they are vicious and armed zombies who slaughter their opponents on the field (they call it “fighting baseball” but there is, to be fair, very little baseball involved).
Seido’s one hope is to recruit Jubei (Tak Sakaguchi), a mysterious pitcher who swore never to play baseball again, due to the lethality of his ‘Super-Tornado’ pitch (and we get Jubei’s back story in the best way possible: song). Jubei does not help in the game and Seidos team is slaughtered and through “plot”, Jubei discovers his desire to beat Gedo, and with the help of some cyborgs and crazy, will do his best to beat the Gedo team at their own game.
This is one of the craziest films I have ever seen, and you do need to be in the right mood/with the right group of people to enjoy Battlefield Baseball, but this surely is one of those zombie films that you just have to see once.
Also, note that the full film is available on YouTube again, however it is dubbed in German, so it will only work for a really particular audience.
4) Wild Zero (1999)
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Japanese garage rock stars, named Guitar Wolf, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf, help a young couple fight zombies brought back by aliens as part of an invasion plan of Earth.
Wild Zero is exactly as fun as it sounds; it is one of those B-Movies that you come across that is just ridiculous and fun enough that you can forget everything for 98 minutes and watch guitars and guns blaze their way through swarms of zombies. And really, when you see a synopsis like that you have to expect a film that appeals to the Midnight Movie, B-Movie crowd, and that is precisely where Zero‘s sweet spot is. Directed by Takeuchi Tetsuro, a well known Japanese music video director, you can also get a sense of the aesthetic you are going to get from Wild Zero: it is fast paced, aggressive, and quite a ride.
It is fun, it is silly and as will all of these films, with the right crowd, you are going to have a blast with Wild Zero.
5) SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis AKA Khun krabii hiiroh (2004)
Speaking of over the top: SARS Wars.
SARS Wars is a Thai film, where SARS Type-4 has evolved in Africa into a zombie virus which is ripping through a quarantined apartment building in Bangkok because of an hornet and an airliner. Thai comedy actors Suthep Po-ngam and Somlek Sakdikul star as comic book style (there are animated sequences), zombie killing heroes who have to try and rescue a beautiful girl from a gang (of course, holding the girl in said apartment building) and then must team up with the gang to fight of the ravenous zombies, including a (ghost? zombie?) Burmese python.
This film is a horror comedy, that pushes for lowest common denominator humour a bit too much, but is, at the same time, hilarious for stretches, and filled with ridiculous (sometimes cartoon) gore. There is a twist that happens later that makes absolutely no sense, but if you are walking into SARS Wars expecting anything less than insanity, you will be disappointed and probably unsure of what just happened in your life. I have not even begun to describe the insanity in SARS Wars, so go in expecting nothing but being bamboozled and having a ridiculous time, and you will be pleased.
As an example: when SARS Wars ended with my group of horror movie junkies, we all sat in a stunned silence for about three minutes…
Here’s a fun checklist for you while you watch SARS Wars:
(__) Zombie Baby
(__) Magic bullet
(__) Suddenly: Random weird cartoon
( X ) “That made no sense!” (I’ll get that one for you)
(__) Uncomfortable joke
(__) Meta reference to the film being a film
(__) Someone you are watching SARS Wars with becomes wide-eyed and yells expletives at the screen/you for making them watch SARS Wars
That’s it, that’s all folks.
Let me know what you have seen from here, what you liked (or hated), or if you have anything crazier that you prefer to these five films in the comments below.