Sunday, March 02, 2008

Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo's Guide to Hong Kong Horror

Somehow Daniel O'Brien's book Spooky Encounters came out without me noticing. I picked this book up a few weeks back and just couldn't put it down. O'Brien gives the most comprehensive history of Hong Kong horror films during the Golden Age of HK filmmaking (roughly the '70s through 1997) I've had the pleasure of reading since the second issue of Colin Geddes's groundbreaking zine Asian Eye.

At 180 pages, Spooky Encounters is jam-packed with information, reviews, and comparisons of HK Horror. O'Brien breaks topics down into the history of HK Horror, the Mr. Vampire series, the influential films of Tsui Hark, Category III blends of sex and scares, and the last days of HK Horror films in the wake of the '97 takeover. O'Brien ties the popularity of films back to their native HK box office gross which provides an interesting insight on how these films were received at the time compared to their legacy (or lack thereof).

O'Brien's prose makes the book easy to read. Moreover, his writing is clear and concise which helps to make sense of some of the more obtuse film plots and the use of Eastern legends in others. O'Brien doesn't take the easy road of gushing over the food films and demonizing the poor ones. His tone is even-handed though he doesn't shy away from taking some laugh out loud potshots when necessary. One of my favorite lines comes from his review of JULY 13TH / QI YUE SHI SAN ZHI LONG PO he writes, "While Alan and Laura appear to be back together, the enigmatic ending hints that their happiness will be short-lived. It also suggests that Wellson Chin and Abe Kwon didn't know how to end their film."

Highly informative and well-crafted, Spooky Encounters is a must-read for genre fans and cinephiles interested in an under-appreciated movement of cinema.

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