I’m currently revising my thesis, which I previously wrote about here. It’s a children’s horror story about plastic surgery, ghosts, and Asian-American family dynamics, and it’s been a lot of fun to write–and research.
The initial inspiration for this project was my desire to write an MG (middle grade) story inspired by Asian horror. I’m a huge fan of uber-intense Asian genre films like THE RAID, BATTLE ROYALE, and OLDBOY, and Asian horror film is of course infamously extreme. That might seem incongruous with a “children’s story”, but I thought that the feel of modern Extreme Asia movies–which often have a reputation for being an exercise in cinematic depravity, but also are often genuinely terrifying and chilling and gleefully Gothic–could be interesting to translate to a scary story for kids.
However, while I consider myself a fan of Asian film, I hadn’t actually seen very many Asian horror movies. So in addition to researching plastic surgery and Asian ghost myths, I prepped for this project by ordering some Asian horror from the library. It was actually more helpful than I expected–I thought maybe watching some Japanese or Korean horror movies might give me an idea for the general atmosphere of my project, but to my surprise they actually ended up inspiring some key scenes and plot points. Here are some of the movies that I watched. Warning: these are not for kids AT ALL!
Yes, I wrote a children’s story inspired by Takashi Miike’s Audition. This was probably the roughest film I’ve ever watched–well, I guess “watched” should be in scare quotes, since my hands were wavering in front of my face during the entire third act. But it did end up inspiring one moment in my thesis–namely, the use of piano wire as a weapon.
Cut (Three…Extremes, 2004)
I also watched an anthology called THREE…EXTREMES, which featured three horror shorts by a Hong Kong, South Korean, and Japanese director. The most famous segment (probably deservedly so) is Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings”, but Park Chan-Wook’s contribution, a tongue-in-cheek spoof of movies like Saw, ended up directly inspiring quite a few scenes in my thesis. One of the first things I envisioned for my project was a “piano setpiece”, but I wasn’t totally sure what that meant. Just my luck that “Cut” involves a piano. There were three specific moments in this short film that ended up inspiring my thesis: the use of a metronome, the imagery of the woman held up by dozens of wires, and a nasty little scene in which severed fingers are thrown in a blender (I was worried that the last one would not fly with my advisors, but my Children’s Lit professor said it was “amazing.” Which is why I love her.)
Box (Three…Extremes, 2004)
“Box” is Takashi Miike’s contribution to THREE…EXTREMES, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised when his segment turned out to be the most subtle and poetic of the three. Though admittedly that’s relative when the other choices involve dumplings made from aborted fetuses. Asian movies are messed up, y’all. This one didn’t directly inspire a particular scene, but it was still informative because it deals with rivalry between sisters and competition for a father figure, which are major themes in my story.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
I ordered this South Korean thriller because I heard it was good and the rather fabulous poster made me assume it would deal heavily with family dynamics, which were pertinent to my thesis. This actually didn’t inform my project all that much in terms of plot, but I was inspired by the imagery of the huge creepy house. Also, ghosts.
The films of Park Chan-Wook
These aren’t really horror, but STOKER and OLDBOY were early movies that I considered as possible models for my project’s tone–I wanted that heightened Gothic sensibility. I watched THE HANDMAIDEN in the middle of drafting my thesis and loved it for all sorts of reasons, but one thing I found especially interesting was how funny it is on top of being extremely provocative and lurid and violent (and it must be said, genuinely romantic too). OLDBOY and “Cut” also have dark humor amidst all the perversity, which ended up informing my approach to my project. I had the most trouble writing my villain, the girls’ plastic surgeon father Dr. Chen, and my enjoyment of the thoroughly sleazy yet strangely hilarious Fujiwara in The Handmaiden helped me embrace the comic potential in my story.