Depictions of individuals with disabilities or genetic abnormalities in horror have often been problematic, focusing on the ‘otherness’ of the physically anomalous as villainous, murderous, and psychotically unstable. While a growing body of scholarly work is examining disability in the horror film, little attention has been paid thus far to depictions in cinema from East Asia. This paper therefore examines monstrous representations of genetic ‘abnormality’ in the Hong Kong film The Bride with White Hair (Ronny Yu, 1993), and the Thai production Alone (Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, 2007). Both films feature troubling depictions of conjoined twins, prime examples of ‘obsessive avenger’ archetypes: characters assumed to be angry and bitter about their disability, motivated to commit violence by a high degree of self-loathing.1
The Bride with White Hair combines horror, swordplay, fantasy and romance to fashion a story of heroism in which sorcerous conjoined twins, a brother and sister, are the ultimate malevolent antagonist. Their self-destructive psycho-sexual oddities mark them as (an) object(s) of pity and depravity, and their narrative arc ultimately suggests their condition is a burden from which they are happy to be finally, though fatally, relieved. Alone is equally complex in terms of its depiction of sexual desire and self-loathing, focusing on the sole surviving twin from a pair of conjoined sisters. Haunted by the ghost of the siblings he killed, the film’s protagonist hides her homicidal past, and similarly symbolizes the supposed desire for ‘normality’ and a ‘cure’ for the conjoined condition. In both films, the immoral, murderous natures of the conjoined characters are tied to their status as genetically anomalous.
Drawing on work in the fields of horror film as well as disability studies, this paper explores the ways these films depict disabled individuals as the ‘monstrous other’ and reflect cultural attitudes to (and assumptions about) the lives of conjoined siblings. At a time when discussions of disability and difference, sexuality, physicality, and horror are intersecting to greater degrees, the inclusion of East Asian cinema in these studies is increasingly important.
- Travis Sutton, ‘Avenging the Body: Disability in the Horror Film’, in HarryM. Benshoff (ed.), A Companion to the Horror Film(Wiley Blackwell, 2014), pp.73-89.
About the speaker
Daniel Martin is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). He is the author of Extreme Asia: The Rise of Cult Cinema from the Far East (2015), co-editor of Korean Horror Cinema (2013) and Hong Kong Horror Cinema (2018), and has published articles on the subjects of East Asian cinema in numerous edited collections and journals.