Southeast Asian Gothic Cinema

Authored by: Colette Balmain

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062


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Defining the Gothic in the context of non-western countries is a notoriously difficult endeavor, especially given that the Gothic is often theorized as the dark underside of the Enlightenment, and connected in this way with a particularly European experience of modernity and modernization. Within South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand, three of the countries that constitute southeast Asia, the very existence of non-mimetic traditions and modernities has meant that there is no overt literary trajectory that can be temporally identified as marking the beginning of a Gothic tradition, while strange and uncanny tales which contain the language of the Gothic predate the colonial encounter with the West. In China, for instance, stories of the supernatural and the strange can be traced back as far as the fourth century BC, particularly to Classic of Mountains and Seas/Shanhai Jing, a book which combines details of geographical features with strange tales with folkloric origins, and to Gan Bao's anonymously published In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record/Sou-shen Chi. Many of these tales, according to Henry J. Hughes, contain ambiguous moral lessons, and directly challenge the legacy of Confucianism (Hughes 2000). In Japan, The Tale of the Genji/Genji Monogatari, published during the eleventh century and attributed to Murasaki Shikibu, contains the very archetype of the jealous vengeful female ghost, a trope that has become a common feature in contemporary southeast Asian Gothic. Hughes tracks a trajectory of Gothic in East Asia from China to Japan. As he writes,

The East Asian Gothic tradition that begins with the Chinese zhiguai and chuangqi tales and develops in the stories of Pu Songling, arguably splits from the Gothic mode in the work of Lu Xun. East Asian Gothic reaches its full dark flowering across the sea in Japan.

(Hughes 2000)

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