My thanks to Sarah Bemand, Clare Brownlee and Paul Smith at Tartan for providing images and being such good sports. Images courtesy of Tartan Films.

1. Metro-Tartan Distribution was a joint venture with the exhibitor Metro Pictures. [return to page 1 of essay]

2. See Erika Franklin, "Asia Extreme: It’s All in the Name," Firecracker. Available at:

4. The popular sites include kfccinmea.com, hkflix.com, sesasian.com, and asiancult.com.

5. For discussion of cult and art house film consumption, see Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer and Andrew Wills (eds.), Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003). See also Joan Hawkins, Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

6. Hamish McAlpine, "A Personal Foreword," in Mark Pilkington, The Tartan Guide to Asia Extreme (London: Startlux, 2004), iv.

7. Gary Needham, "Japanese Cinema and Orientalism," in Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Gary Needham (eds.), Asian Cinemas: A Reader and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2006), 11.

8. Mark Jancovich, "Introduction" to "Part Four: Consuming Fears" in Mark Jancovich (ed.), Horror, The Film Reader (London & New York: Routledge, 2002),135.

9. Mark Pilkington, "Introduction," The Tartan Guide to Asia Extreme (London: Startlux, 2004), v.

10. Confident of my analogy, I posed the question to Hamish McAlpine. Disappointingly, McAlpine told me that he actually "pinched" the extreme title from the Channel Four (British TV channel) series as a kind of payback, as Channel Four apparently "stole" the pattern of his Tartan logo! Hamish McAlpine, private conversation with the author on 12 November 2007.

11. Pilkington, "Introduction," The Tartan Guide to Asia Extreme, vi.

12. Variety (6 September 2005).

13. Tartan’s Press and PR Manager, Paul Smith told me that Battle Royale was not picked up by any U.S. distributors, possibly because the film is about school kids killing each other, and there have been real shooting incidents at schools in the United States. Nonetheless, Miramax purchased a remake right to the film. Interview with the author, conducted on 17 January 2007.

14. Paul Smith, interview with the author, conducted on 17 January 2007.

16. Tony Rayns, "Sexual Terrorism: The Strange Case of Kim Ki-duk," Film Comment (November-December, 2004), 51.

17. Rayns, "Sexual Terrorism," 51 and 50. According to Rayns, Kim is

“not a master of psychosexual sophistication. Nor, as it happens, is he a great director of actors or an acute analyst of Korean society, politics, or history. In fact, to be frank, the writer-director you can infer from his films comes across as just a teensy bit naive when it comes to sexual politics, social criticism, and religious inklings.” (50)

18. Richard Falcon, "The Isle (Review)," Sight and Sound (August 2001), 49.

19. Paracinema refers to a wide range of film genres out of the mainstream, and by Sconce's own description this is “an extremely elastic textual category.” In addition to art film, horror, and science fiction films, “paracinema” catalogues “include entries from such seemingly disparate genres” as badfilms, splatterpunk, mondo films, sword-and-sandal epics, Elvis flicks, government hygiene films, Japanese monster movies, beach party musicals, and “just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to ... pornography.” See Jeffrey Sconce, "“Trashing” the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style," Screen vol. 36 no. 4 (Winter 1995): 372.

Joan Hawkins elaborates upon the term "paracinema" and notes its main characteristics as follows. The operative criterion is "affect": the ability of a film to thrill, frighten, gross out, arouse, or otherwise directly engage the spectator’s body. And it is this emphasis on affect that characterises paracinema as a low cinematic culture. Paracinema catalogues are dominated by what Clover terms "body genre" films, films that, Linda Williams notes, "privilege the sensational." See Joan Hawkins, Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 4.

21. Roger Ebert, "The Isle (Review)," Chicago Sun-Times (31 January 2003). Available at:

23. Mark Schilling, "Audition: Mid-Life Crisis Meets Lethal Psychosis," The Japan Times (14 March 2000).
Available at: http://search.japantimes.

24. Gary Morris, "Gore Galore: Takashi Miike’s Audition," Bright Light Film Journal. Available at:

25. Peter Bradshaw, "Oldboy (Review)," Guardian Unlimited (15 October 2004). Available at:

26. Harry Knowles, Ain't It Cool News (9 December 2003). Available at:

27. Michael Atkinson, "Die Hard With a Vengeance: Best Served Cold, Park Chanwook's Brutal Revenge Feast Comes With a Side of Live Octopus," Village Voice (22 March, 2005). Available at:

28. Carina Chocano, "Oldboy: From Korea Comes a Dream of Deadly Drama," The Los Angeles Times (25 March 2005). Available at:

29. Grady Hendrix, "Vengeance Is Theirs," Sight and Sound (February 2006), 18.

30. Manohla Dargis, "The Violence (and the Seafood) Is More Than Raw,” The New York Times (25 March, 2005). Available at:

31. The AAJA Media Watch group complained that the review “reduces an entire people to a backward, "different’ lot that’s meant to be mocked.” See the Internet sit:

32. On 16 April 2007, Cho Seung-Hui, who had history of mental and behavioural problems, killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself on the Virginia Tech campus. Cho was a South Korean but his family had moved to the US when he was eight. He was a senior English major at Virginia Tech.

33. The possible link was spotted by the Virginia Tech professor Paul Harris, who then alerted the authorities.

34. For example, Gerald Kaufman urged filmmakers to exercise self-censorship on the Telegraph website, while filmmaker Bob Cesca described the connection as “the most ridiculous hypothesis yet” writing for the Huffington Post. In defending the film, Grady Hendrix at Slate proclaims “Oldboy bears no more responsibility for the Virginia Tech shootings than American Idol.” See the IFC Blog for a roundup of the responses as well as from Tartan Films that issued an official statement that includes the following passages:

“We are extremely proud of Chan-wook Park, Tartan movie Oldboy and the critical praise it has received. To be associated in any way with the tragic events that occurred at Virginia Tech is extremely disturbing and distressing.”

Available at: http://ifcblog.ifctv.com/

35. Julian Stringer, “Putting Korean Cinema in Its Place: Genre Classifications and The Contexts of Reception,” in Chi-Yun Shin and Julian Stringer (eds.), New Korean Cinema (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 96.

36. Needham, "Japanese Cinema and Orientalism," 9.

37. Hendrix, "Vengeance Is Theirs," 18.

38. Atkinson, "Die Hard With a Vengeance," Village Voice (22 March, 2005).

39. British distributor Third Window has rights for all of Lee Chang-dong films (apart from his latest Secret Sunshine) and they are released on DVD.

40. The impact of Asia Extreme label is also evident in the fate of Kim Jee-woon’s debut feature The Quiet Family (1998), whose later films include popular Tartan Asia Extreme titles such as A Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life (2005). The Quiet Family contains many of Kim’s directorial hallmarks, but remains a relatively obscure film in the U.K., mainly because it was picked up by a Hong Kong-based distribution company Tai Seung, whereas its Japanese remake Happiness of the Katakuris (Takashi Miike, 2002) was picked up by Tartan Films and subsequently became much more widely available than the original.

42. Bill Roundtree, "2005 in Review: Korean Cinema" (2 January 2006). Available at:

43. Mark Jancovich, "Genre and the Audience: Genre Classifications and Cultural Distinctions in the Mediation of The Silence of the Lambs," in Mark Jancovich (ed.), Horror: The Film Reader (London & New York: Routledge, 2002), 153.

44. James Naremore, "American Film Noir: The History of an Idea," Film Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 2 (1995-6), 14.

45. Interestingly, Optimum released more arthouse features such as Japanese film All About Lily Chou Chou (Sunji Iwai, 2001) and Chinese title Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Si Jie, 2003) through their "Optimum World" division rather than Optimum Asia.

46. Film distributors are not alone in trying to reap the profit from the success of Extreme label. Book publishers have joined in to produce titles such as Asian Shock: Horror and Dark Cinema from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand and Outlaw Masters of Japanese Films. Patrick Galloway’s Asian Shock almost mimes the Tartan phrase on its back cover:

“Asian Extreme cinema is hot, and this book celebrates all its gory glory.”

Appendix I: Alphabetical index of the film titles cited

Audition (Japan, 1999) Dir: Takashi Miike. 
A middle-aged, widowed Aoyama is encouraged by his film producer friend to hold a fake audition for the leading lady to find a new wife, during which Aoyama is besotted by a former ballet dancer Asami.  Romance soon blossoms between them, but Asami is not who she seems to be. 

Bangkok Dangerous (Thailand, 2000) Dirs: Danny and Oxide Pang. 
A deaf-mute hit man Kong falls in love with innocent pharmacist Fon and sets out on the path of ultimate redemption, but the seedy and brutal underworld prevents him.

Battle Royale (Japan, 2000) Dir: Kinji Fukasaku. 
As a response to increasingly delinquent youths, the government randomly kidnaps a class of 15 year olds and pits them against each other in armed combat on a remote island from which only one of them will get out alive and any resistance is punished with the ultimate penalty.

Dark Water (Japan, 2001) Dir: Hideo Nakata. 
Engaged in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband, recently divorced mother Yoshimi moves into a decrepit apartment building with her young daughter, but she soon encounters an ever-expanding pool of water dripping through her ceiling and the mysterious girl in yellow raincoat.

The Eye (Thailand, 2002) Dirs: Danny and Oxide Pang. 
A blind young woman, Mun wakes from a pioneering eye transplant to find that she can see the souls of the unquiet dead.  Plagued by visions, she sets off to find out whose eyes she inherited.

Hard Boiled (Hong Kong, 1992) Dir: John Woo. 
A Hong Kong cop wages war against the triad smugglers who killed his partner.  Joining forces with an undercover agent, he sets out to stop the maniacal triad boss.

Host (South Korea, 2006) Dir: Bong Jun-ho. 
In 2000, the American military base of Yongsan releases toxic chemicals down the drain into the Han River.  Six years later, a mutant monster emerges and attacks people.  A young girl is carried off by the monster and disappears.  When her family finds out that she is still alive and kept in a big sewer nearby the river, they join forces trying to find her and rescue her. 

Infernal Affairs (Hong Kong, 2002) Dirs: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. 
An under-cover police agent Chan has burrowed his way into a powerful triad cocaine-smuggling operation, while a triad member Lau has infiltrated into the police.  When a bust goes wrong, they find out each other’s existence and the two men home in on each other.

The Isle (South Korea, 2000) Dir: Kim Ki-duk. 
Mute Hee-jin works at a fishing resort on a remote lake, supplying bait, hooks, drinks and occasional sex to men who hire out the floating huts.  She saves Hyun-shik who attempted to kill himself by swallowing several fishhooks and hides him from the police, whereupon their relationship spirals into intensive obsession.

Ju-on: The Grudge (Japan, 2002) Dir: Takashi Shimizu. 
The volunteer social assistant Rika Nishina is assigned to visit a family, but the house is haunted by vengeful spirits: a mother and child who were brutally murdered there.  One by one, anyone who has lived or visited the house experience the supernatural curse.

Nowhere to Hide (South Korea, 1999) Dir: Lee Myung-se. 
A maverick detective pursues a brutal killer, beating his way through a succession of seedy underworld types until he finally confronts the killer for a showdown.

Oldboy (South Korea, 2003) Dir: Park Chan-wook. 
Without any explanation, Dae-su is released after fifteen years in a private prison.  Back on the streets, his task is to find out why he is imprisoned and indeed take his revenge on who put him there. 

Ringu (Japan, 1997) Dir: Hideo Nakata. 
It begins with an urban legend about videotape; anyone who sees it receives a phone call telling them that they have one week to live.  A reporter watches the tape and sets out to track down the source of the curse, and her trail leads to Sadako, a child psychic who has been dead for some thirty years.

Shiri (South Korea, 1999) Dir: Kang Je-gyu. 
Two South Korean special agents have been tracking a female North Korean assassin who re-appears after suddenly disappearing for a year.  Also present is a squad of North Korean renegades who hijack a powerful explosive device.  The film climaxes in a spectacular Seoul football stadium showdown.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring (South Korea, 2003) Dir: Kim Ki-duk. 
An old Buddhist monk lives with a young boy in a small floating temple on an isolated lake. Grown to a teenager, he is to be consumed with lust for a young woman who has come to the temple to be cured, and runs away to the outside world.  Years later, he returns and journeys towards spiritual enlightenment.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (South Korea, 2001) Dir: Park Chan-wook. 
Deaf-mute Ryu pays an illegal organ traffickers to obtain a compatible kidney for his sister, but the gang rip him off.  In desperation, Ryu and his girlfriend kidnap a well-off industrialist’s daughter but she accidentally drowns, and her father seeks revenge.

A Tale of Two Sisters (South Korea, 2003) Dir: Kim Ji-woon. 
After being treated in a mental institution, two teenage sisters return home in the countryside.  Soon, the sisters are plagued by terrifying nightmares and visions, and there are hints of abuse in the relationship between the younger sister and her stepmother.  While the older sister struggles to fight off their stepmother, a picture of trauma and tragedy gradually emerges.  

Three…Extremes (2004) Dirs. Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook and Takashi Miike. 
Comprising three segments – “Dumplings,” “Cut,” and “Box” from Hong Kong, South Korean and Japanese film directors, the Pan-Asian horror omnibus films present ordinary people capable of doing evil and psychotic things to each other.  There is no connection or link between the stories and none of them involves a ghost. 

Three Extremes 2 (2002) Dirs: Kim Ji-woon, Nonzee Nimibutr, and Peter Chan. 
In actuality, the predecessor of the Three…Extremes (its theatrical title was Three), the first horror omnibus is consisted of “Memories”, “The Wheel” and “Going Home” with directors from South Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong: tales of supernatural horror and existential dread.

Appendix II: U.K. and U.S. Tartan Asia Extreme titles

Tartan UK

A Bittersweet Life
Ab-normal Beauty
Another Public Enemy
Bad Guy
Bangkok Dangerous
Bangkok Haunted
Battle Royale
Battle Royale II
The City of Lost Souls
Dark Water
Dead or Alive
Dead or Alive 2
Eye 2
Eye Infinity
Fulltime Killer
Hard Boiled
Happiness of the Katakuris
Heroic Duo
Infernal Affairs
Infernal Affairs II
Infernal Affairs III
Inner Senses
Into the Mirror
The Isle
JSA: Joint Security Area
Lady Vengeance
Ley Lines
Memento Mori
Nowhere to Hide
One Night in Mongkok
One Take Only
Princess Blade
Public Enemy
Rainy Dog
Save the Green Planet
Shinjuku Triad Society
A Snake of June
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
A Tale of Two Sisters
Tetsuo: The Ironman
Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer
Three Extremes 2
Unborn but Forgotten
Visitor Q
Whispering Corridors
Wishing Stairs

Tartan USA

A Bittersweet Life
Ab-normal Beauty
Another Public Enemy
Apartment 1303
Bloody Reunion
Bloody Ties
Booth, The
Ghost of Mae Nak
Ghost, The
Heirloom, The
Heroic Duo
Hidden Blade, The
Lady Vengeance
Maid, The
Memento Mori
Natural City
One Take Only
Red Shoes
Snake of June, A
Spider Forest
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Triad Election
Unborn But Forgotten
Victim, The
Whispering Corridors
Wishing Stairs

To topPrint versionJC 50 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.