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10 - Dracula in Asian Cinema: Transnational Appropriation of a Cultural Symbol

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Summary

The focus of this essay is the vampire in Asian cinema. By vampire, I do not mean a monster native to Asia that academic and popular writings have come to associate with it, like the Filipino aswang or the host of blood-drinking Indian demons (such as the vetala, the yakshi and the rakshasha), but Dracula himself – or rather a vampire based on Stoker's design. His representation, moreover, can be direct or indirect: obviously a replication of the Anglo-American prototype, or a hybridised configuration, like the Malaysian pontianak and the Chinese jiangshi, that nevertheless palpably manifest his characteristics (usually his fangs and blood-drinking). As we shall see, the latter strategy can sometimes transform the hybrid into an effective motif bearing allegorical implications, but at others potentially undermine the cultural meaningfulness of the film. Hence, the subject of my inquiry is Asian cinema's appropriation of Stoker's vampire as a Western icon itself. Admittedly the lack of films featuring Dracula or a Dracula-hybrid potentially signals the lack of the phenomenon's importance to the development of Asian horror. However, my concern here is not so much with how often Dracula appears in Asian films (although I will briefly address this point) but why he appears at all. By clarifying the symbolic role Dracula performs in Asian horror films, I hope to establish a possible reason why he is adopted as a motif other than the allegation that his appropriation is mainly for profit.

This chapter explains Dracula's apparent adaptability to Asian cinema. After briefly reviewing Dracula's claim as a pre-eminent symbol in Anglo-American popular culture, I demonstrate Dracula's inherent versatility and ambiguity as a symbol capable of accommodating multiple, constantly shifting and even contradictory meanings corresponding to the nation's evolving culture at different points in history. As I will argue, it is precisely these qualities that render his ideological loyalty uncertain on the one hand and enable his transcendence of national borders to become a transnational, multicultural symbol on another, and hence his attractiveness to Asian cinema. This chapter also considers a common, if deleterious, perception regarding twentieth-century Asian horror (with the exception of Japanese and Korean or J- and K-horror) that could also apply to Dracula's presence in its films.

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Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 136 - 152
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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