Female Protagonists (and Antagonists) in Asian Horror


Okay, so I’m a fan of the recent Asian horror phenomenon. I like the way they can do creepy, not gory, and the way that they’re more than just slasher films, unlike the tendency of American horror films.

Anyway, many of you may know that my curiosity has been drawn to feminist paths more often than usual lately, and a thought just occurred to me:

The Whispering Corridors series of movies, which are credited as starting the Asian horror phenomenon, are set in girls schools. Almost all of the ghosts and protagonists are female. But this got me thinking…

The Grudge? Female ghost, female protagonist.
The Ring? Female ghost, female protagonist.
Dark Water? Young female ghost, female protagonist (+ daughter)
One Missed Call? Female ghost, female protagonist.
The Eye? Female ghost, female protagonist.
A Tale of Two Sisters? Two sisters, evil stepmother. (Female ghost.)

It’s certainly not ALL Asian horror, but of the ones I’ve seen and can think of, it’s the overwhelming majority. And it’s even true in the American remakes! So my question for the class is WHY?

Is this a genre thing? Is it cultural? Have I just managed to pick a biased selection?

It seems to me that American horror (which, it’s true, is largely slasher genre) has a tendency towards having male ghosts, male protagonists. The women are there to scream and to be victimized. What is it that makes Asian horror movies different?



5 Responses to “Female Protagonists (and Antagonists) in Asian Horror”

  1. 1 Rupee

    I think it has much to do with cultural of course. I don’t want to make assumptions but I know that since Asian horror has been prominently based with these female themes for decades, possibly centuries who knows I’m not currently looking anything up, however I believe it has to do with the old adage akin to hatred know no fury like a woman scorned. The fact that women have been seen as inferiors for so long and this is a sort of revenge for any wrongs, their inability to take control or get what they want while in life (I’m referring to the ghosts of course). For men women were not only inferiors but also a mystery, women have their own culture and their own knowledge that men do not partake in, giving them this untouchable mystique, which probably feeds into their ability to be written into frightening stories.

    I took a horror in lit/film class last semester and he showed a very old j-horror movie, one of the first ones to have the theme of the evil black hair thing (oh god save me, I can’ handle it), and it was a female ghost coming to haunt the male protagonist who had divorced her for a richer higher class woman. I’m just saying the origins probably have to do with the quite primitive of thoughts, women are scary to men. lulz.

  2. You make some excellent points, and I think your theory is spot on with the mystique and the idea that women are scary to men, but it still leaves half of my question unanswered.

    What about the female protagonists? It’s my impression (perhaps incorrect) that cultures in modern Asian countries are still more repressive of women than in my own U.S. of A. But the female protagonists of Asian horror seem to be portrayed as more intelligent and capable than the screaming, topless victims in American horror.

    So why the female protagonists in Asian horror? Is it because they’re more equipped to deal with these other, scarier women? But it seems to me that if that’s the case, it’s even more of a threat to masculinity. In American cinema, the “scary” female antagonist is dealt with by being (usually brutally) put down by the male lead. Like in Fatal Attraction, or really any horror movie with a female killer, and the brutality is often compounded with sexuality, so that the female threat is nude or nearly so when she’s slaughtered.

    Why is this NOT happening in Asian cinema?

  3. 3 Mimness

    You might like to check out some of Jay McRoy’s writing on Asian Horror:
    “Japanese Horror Cinema” (2005) (editor)
    “Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema” (2007)

    I know there are definitely some chapters about female antagonists in Asian horror films, particularly focussing on ‘kaidan’ or avenging-spirit-films. There might be something about protagonists too. I haven’t had a chance to read them thoroughly myself yet T_T

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