7 Frightening Asian Horror Films With Kickass Female Leads

It’s the witchy weekend, which means time to settle in and watch a film that scares the living daylights out of you! We’ve talked about the best slasher films streaming right now, spooky Halloween sitcoms episodes to watch, and Halloween horror icons. If you’re still hungry for more, here’s a list of some great foreign Asian horror films, each featuring a kickass woman doing everything she can to keep the demons at bay.

Under the Shadow

Set during the Iran-Iraq war, Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow is about Shideh, her daughter Dorsa, and their tense relationship: Shideh feels trapped by the patriarchal regime and the expectations put on her to be a good mother, while Dorsa longs for an attentive parent. After their apartment building is hit by a missile and the neighbors move out, Shideh and Dorsa are left with just each other, their increasing bitterness, and the possibility that there’s a djinn twisting everything between them. Like the Babadook, the monsters here are both actual and metaphorical. Will Shideh save Dorsa? More importantly…does she want to?

The Host

Bong Joon-ho is known for his films that intermix horror with social commentary, comedy, and tragedy. When the daughter of lackadaisical parent Park Gang-du is snatched by a river monster, he brings together his family of misfits to rescue her. While Gang-du is the lead, he’s also tragically inept, and it’s the women who really shine here. Gang-du’s daughter Hyun-seo is a tough kid, and his archer sister Nam-joo (played by Sense8’s Bae Doona) is the most self-sufficient of the group. Corny at times in both content and effects, the film nonetheless packs a surprisingly emotional gut punch at the end.


Shion Sono’s Tag is one of those films that can easily give you whiplash. Featuring a cast of nearly all women, it alternates between tender and terrifying, mixing moments of female friendship with all out carnage. It’s also a film that clearly has a message at the end about the way women are treated. One can debate whether Sono succeeds or undermines his own point, but regardless: the premise of a young schoolgirl stuck in a horrific, unpredictable alternate reality keeps you intrigued enough till the end.

The Promise

Sopon Sukdapisit’s The Promise revolves around the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when the value of the Thai bhat plummeted and many families became bankrupt. Seeing no other way out, teenagers Ib and Boum make a suicide pact—except after watching Ib shoot herself, Boum runs away. Years later, Ib’s ghost returns to collect on the promise and targets Boum’s daughter Bell instead. Both full of jump scares and heartbreak, it’s an almost CGI-free film that loses some steam at the end, but reminds us sometimes the scariest things are often what we can’t see.

The Third Eye

Rocky Soraya’s The 3rd Eye is the kind of horror movie that would work well at a party with booze: it’s a complete mishmash of tropes, jump scares, and gore, and the plot itself is a bit nonsensical. It’s about two sisters, Alia and Abel, who move back into their childhood home after their parents pass, only to realize there may be something else there with them. There are definite B-grade qualities to this, but once Alia opens her “third eyeâ€â€”the ability to see the supernatural—the film provides the right amount of spooky amusement.

The Silenced

Much like Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, there’s a distinct sense of repression in Lee Hye-yeong’s The Silenced, which is set in Korea in the 1930s during Japanese occupation. Ju-ran is a sickly girl who gets sent to a secluded sanatorium and all-girls boarding school. As more and more girls go missing and her body begins to change, Ju-ran begins to confront the fact that there’s something sinister going on. The final act of the film takes a surprising turn, as she becomes the kind of horror lead you find yourself gleefully rooting for.

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook has many sumptuous and unnerving horror films, but The Handmaiden in particular straddles the line between thriller and horror and continuously upends viewer expectations. Set in 1930s Korea during Japanese occupation, it tells the story of Sookee, a pickpocket pretending to be an awkward handmaiden so her employer can swindle a Japanese heiress, Hideko. But nothing is what it seems, and the film winds you tighter and tighter across three acts until you reach the shocking, bloody conclusion.What movies did we miss that deserve a spot alongside these lethal ladies? Be sure to tell us your faves in comments below.

Image: CJ Entertainment

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