Female representation in Asian horror goes beyond the surface

Throughout my research on Asian horror, a common theme is the role of women and the shift of gender roles in a genre usually tailored to male dominance. The female role in Asian horror films is representative of a time that contained a great deal of stress and tragedy for women due to the Asiatic economic crisis which impacted Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines (Lee, 2011, p.2). Korean horror films began using female ghosts as a representation of current social problems and as a communicative tool for audiences.

The use of female ghosts to convey economic difficulties and its harsh impact on women gives a strong empowerment to the characters and their motives. I’ve always been a strong promoter of using performance and story telling to communicate global social inequalities whether it be through dramatic text or comedy. A strong element to these story lines that are tailored to women are that of revenge after a horrific attack. The beauty of Asian horror is the human qualities given to the villain. Their context and history are what inform their presence in the performance and as a theatre performer, this is a notion I find extremely valuable to the art.

The characterisation of a ghost within the horror genre as opposed to an overt representation of a dehumanised axe weilding murderer, gives a stronger connection between the audience and the story. The role of women in Asian horror are of humanistic elements and convey to the audience an almost relatable tone due to their history, therefore enabling the audience to connect with the villain rather than the victim. This facet of Asian horror is so rare to find amongst the genre, which is explainable as to the popularity and constant adaptation of it’s cinematic elements.

Asiatic experiences in economic distress found its way to the story lines of its cinemas with the enhanced history of traditional tales. Can the experience of an economic crises within such films encourage discussion on the topic of depression and domestic violence? A common theme amongst the genre along with the supernatural components may be an effective means of communicating social issues to audiences engrained with the horror experience.

My emotions when watching Ju-on (The Grudge) was the sympathy felt for the females distress in an abusive relationship that tragically results in her and her son’s death. My friend watching the film with me automatically brought up how the sad the story really was and that it goes far deeper than what we initially think.

I once again find myself surprised by the exhaustive depths and analysis that is warranted to Asia’s horror cinema.


Lee, H 2011, “Modernity, Gender Politics and the New Asian Female Ghost Films” in International Communication Association, pp.1-20.

One comment

  1. Wow I never knew any of this about Asian horror films. I am not surprised though as most Asian films I have seen have been based upon political and social issues within their culture. I was completely unaware of the role of women to this genre of film and I was actually curious as to why women are always represented as ghosts or misunderstood/ mistreated sources of evil spirits. Your research is extremely interesting, keep up the good work.


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