Chan is a shy Chinese seamstress who probably does not have the time or money to enjoy horror movies. Weirdly, she starts to suspect Yamada, her gothy Japanese supermodel neighbor is bringing the j-horror to her. However, perceptions and preconceptions cannot always be trusted in Hyun Lee’s short film Asian Girls (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Brooklyn International Film Festival.
Many nights, Chan wakes from a dream in which Yamada is knelling over her in bed. She considers it a nightmare, but maybe some viewers would not. In this unidentified megalopolis, space is at such a premium, the classes are forced to live in close proximity, but that does not breed familiarity or understanding—quite the contrary in fact.
During the dialogue-free film, we see both women going about their daily existences. While their lifestyles are radically different, they are equally solitary. They also happen to represent two very different media archetypes of Asian women: the worker prole and the sexualized vamp. Lee cleverly uses the visual vocabulary of horror movies, especially Japanese horror conventions, to address such stereotyping. She also rather cleverly pulls off the twist at the end.
Frankly, Lee and cinematographer Grégoire Lière give the film such a sleek, stylish look, we rather wish it were longer, with a plottier narrative. On the other hand, it would be hard to sustain the wordlessness, which really works well in the context of the seven-minute film. Indeed, it makes the sinister sound design even joltier.
Rainbow Chan and Stella Leung are both wonderfully expressive, yet still craftily mysterious as Chan and Yamada respectively. It quite a cinematic piece of weirdness that should please Asian horror fans. Highly recommended, Asian Girls screens again this Sunday (6/10), as part of this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival.