Malaysian director Ho Yuhang recently gathered with his fellow filmmakers to discuss their latest shared project, a horror-themed television series for HBO Asia. Called "Folklore", each episode of the series will focus on a specific Asian country and its terrifying ghost tale.
For Ho Yuhang, who is of course representing Malaysia, the ghost in question will be a toyol. Singapore's Eric Khoo, Indonesia's Joko Anwar and South Korea's Lee Sang-woo have also each selected a ghost that best represent their respective countries' horror landscape.
Slated to begin filming in February next year, each director will be doing the productions in his own country. Ho's episode will be filmed fully in Malay, starring Bront Palarae; Khoo's will be Mandarin, starring a yet-to-be-cast newcomer; Lee's in Korean and Joko's in Indonesian, both have yet to finalise their cast.
Cinema Online had the chance to talk to the four filmmakers at the recent press interview held at The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore.
Find out what the filmmakers have to say about their countries' representative ghosts.
Cinema Online: What ghost are you focusing on in your own episode and why did you decide to select that particular ghost?
Ho: I'm quite short so the toyol looks like me, it's closest to my height [laughs]. I think toyol is a very interesting creature, it does things for you, even some really bad things. So in my story, it happens to be the one that's quite evil. It's a very terrible way of rearing it and acquiring it. I chose this because I'm dealing with a story about someone who wants power and wealth. No title for it yet, I don't want it to be just "Toyol".
Eric: Mine is a pontianak because I grew up watching a lot of these Cathay Keris pontianak movies and I like the idea of a beautiful woman becoming horrific. It's all about female empowerment as she kills men. I'm working together with this writer Amanda Koh, who suggested why don't we try a teenage pontianak. So I put a twist, it's gonna be a very young pontianak. The title is "Nobody".
Joko: The scariest ghost in the library of ghosts in Indonesia is pontianak but [Eric Khoo's] taken it. I think the second scariest ghost in Indonesia is toyol but [Ho Yu Hang's] taken it. Number 3 lah, the child kidnapping ghost. I think it's very relevant in Indonesia because there are so many people having children without having clear plans on how to raise the kids, how to make the child grow up to become a happy person. I think it's a persistent theme in all my films, from my first film to my last film, the presence of a child in a family. The title is "A Mother's Love".
Lee: Oh, so many ghosts in Korea. But the horror films in Korea are all about the female ghosts. Mine is the male one. If a guy dies a virgin he turns into a 'bachelor ghost'.
How do you research the ghost for your story? Do you base it on true events?
Ho: I have friends who actually have [toyol] but the harmless one. A friend visited his friend and he told me that the family has an extra pair of chopsticks and bowl. He never asked but he knows because he saw the urn of the baby.
Joko: Research on the actual ghost and research on the cases of missing children. There are a lot of cases of missing children that are still unsolved that are attributed to supernatural incidents. I'm using those as a background for my story.
Lee: Not based on a true story but it still happens. We [Koreans] believe in Shamanism.
Eric: I know people who have seen the pontianak in Singapore, like lurched on the frangipani tree. I've never encountered her. It's like a female killing machine. If my teenager is very young and very innocent and sweet, the backstory of how she became a pontianak becomes very sad because it's actually a woman who dies during childbirth.
Our episode is actually the oppressors and the oppressed. It's set on a construction site with foreign labours and as they're clearing an area, they discover a body and legend has it, pontianak always has a nail at the back of the neck. Once you remove it, then she starts to terrorise.
Where are the locations for the other episodes?
Joko: Set in real-life Jakarta today, to be shot on location, it'll be as organic as "Pengabdi Setan".
Ho: General KL area. The story doesn't have all these modern buildings, so it'll be on the outskirts of KL.
Lee: A school in Seoul.
Do you have a vision of how your ghost will look like and will the look be achieved using visual effects?
Eric: She's got to really be able to speak with her eyes because she doesn't talk. We've done some designs, very long nails and deep sockets but it'll be with prosthetic.
All: Organic designs.
Eric: We'll be more organic in presenting the ghosts.
What are your thoughts on the similarities between the ghosts in Asian countries?
Eric: It's just different permutations. You talk about the toyol right, you have the Thai version, the Malay version, the Vietnamese version. When you talk about pontianak, there are also different versions. There's one kuntilanak and then you've also got one from the Philippines. So it's quite interesting because there's this overlapping but they all have their specific sort of origins.
Lee: I [had to] change my scripts twice. The first time it's a lesbian ghost. The second that I sent they told me I need to change it because it's very similar to the others'. I just found out that the ghosts are very similar in Asian countries.
What other projects are you working on?
Eric: I'm currently finishing up my feature film, it's called "Ramen Teh" and it's a food movie. It's a cooperation with Japan. It's ramen noodle and bah kut teh.
Lee: I'm working on another movie after this. Commercial film. I've tried going commercial many times but I failed. One of the guys from Lotte, he knew I was working with this one and he was very surprised that I'm working with HBO.
Eric: He's always been very art house [laughs].
Joko: I'm working on a new secret movie.
Ho: I'm writing a horror film. So two horror [projects], one for HBO, one a feature film.
Joko: And the actor is...
Is that true?
Ho: Yes, Joko will star in my movie. To shoot in Indonesia.