SHOCKING ASIA – Putting the X in Exotic Exploitation

The trailer for Shocking Asia opens as travelogue showing picturesque footage of East Indian spiritual ceremonies, then quickly dissolves into sensationalism as worshipers are shown undergoing real self- mortifications of the flesh. Next, Southeast Asian transvestite prostitutes working in their respective red light districts are featured, followed by jarring images from a sex change operation in progress. The “diversity of human sexuality” theme continues with footage of Japanese S&M sessions and couples cavorting in “love hotels.”

As the narrative voice over describes the Asian “medley of the mysterious,” a quick montage of sexualized rituals, decomposing corpses and acts of violence encourages the audience’s (and filmmaker’s) fetishization of the Eastern “other.” To drive their point home, the producers emphasize that this film was “banned from television.” As the trailer closes with a dead body burning on a funeral pyre, we see why.

The problem with the Shocking Asia preview is that it gives up all the goods – a common complaint of preview viewing audiences. Having seen the film on a sub par VHS release in the late eighties, I know of what I speak. The three-minute trailer contains nearly all the graphic sex, violence, nudity and human depravity contained in the entire film! This marketing approach– equal parts spoiler and spectacle—is, in any case, a response to the generic expectations of then-popular “mondo” documentary films popularized by filmmaker Gualtiero Jacopetti.


Although not as influential as his contemporary Jacopetti, Shocking Asia director Rolf Olsen was well known as an exploitation auteur. Indeed, for the film’s sequel, Shocking Asia II: The Last Taboos (1985, and directed by Olsen under the pseudonym Emerson Fox), the trailer emphasizes Olsen’s involvement, while blatantly recycling sequences from the first film’s trailer. To the untrained eye or those unfamiliar with Shocking Asia, the sequel trailer appears to preview footage from the later film, which is not the case. Clever advertising technique or unscrupulous practice, I leave it to you to decide.

An alumnus of UCLA’s Moving Image Archive Studies masters degree program, Tony is a researcher, digital media producer/archivist and aspiring TV promo creative director based in Los Angeles. Currently, the video assets archivist for PromaxBDA, the professional organization for the TV promo business, Tony previously worked for the UCLA Archive where he contributed to several high-profile preservation projects, including digital restoration of “lost” television programs and coordinating the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “L.A. Rebellion” initiative (under the aegis of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time). He is also a regular contributor to the music and film quarterly Wax Poetics. Tony can be reached at

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About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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