Ho Yuhang tells <em>toyol</em> story with a twist in HBO's "Folklore"

Ho Yuhang tells toyol story with a twist in HBO's "Folklore"

Eric Khoo (L) and Ho Yuhang at the press conference for HBO's "Folklore" in Kuala Lumpur.

Late last year, it was announced that HBO will be premiering its original horror series "Folklore" sometime this year. Well, the wait is over, horror fans! Featuring tales of superstitions and myths across six Asian countries, "Folklore" has premiered just in time for the Halloween month.

From 7 October to 11 November, a new episode was aired every Sunday, with reruns to be expected of course!

The first episode of the series, Joko Anwar's "A Mother's Love", tells of Indonesia's Wewe Gombel, a female ghost that kidnaps children. Second episode is "Tatami", a Takumi Saitoh-helmed story of the titular haunted Japanese mat. The third episode is Singapore filmmaker Eric Khoo's tale of a teenage pontianak, entitled "Nobody".

The fourth episode, "Pob", sees Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's titular Thai ghost confessing to a murder and later making a deal of a lifetime with a journalist to get the confession published. The fifth episode is Ho Yuhang's "Toyol", which follows a Malaysian minister who turns to a mysterious woman with shamanistic powers for help and falls in love with her, unaware of the dark secret she keeps. Last but not least is South Korea's "Mongdal", directed by Lee Sang-woo, about a mother who tries to find a bride for her dead son.

Prior to his episode's release, director Ho Yuhang, joined by "Folklore" showrunner Eric Khoo, met with the Malaysian media to talk more about "Toyol".

Here's what they have to say:

Eric Khoo and Ho Yuhang with the cast of "Toyol" Nabila Huda and Bront Palarae.

Cinema Online: Have you always had Nabila Huda in mind to play the female lead?

Ho Yuhang: Yeah, no one else, in fact. And I haven't watched "Munafik" at the time that I thought of her, only much later I watched it. The casting process was interesting because I have Bront and Nabila in mind and I went to Bront and asked, "Who do you think will play the woman?", and he said Nabila. I went to Nabila and asked "Who do you think will play [the man]?" and she said "You know, I'd like to work with Bront". It was interesting that they thought of each other.

Did you choose to make your story more 'creepy' and not really a jump scare kind of horror?

Ho: Because many horror stories out there are like that, so I wanted more to go for this prevailing creepy mood, not jump scare. I thought let's try and stay away from it a little bit. I think good horror stories are not the one where you get instant satisfaction in the cinema, but you go back and you're still creeped out.

Was the choice of not using a typical dukun in your story deliberate, too?

Ho: Yeah, I wanted the image to be something very different from the typical man with janggut (beard) kind of dukun characters. It's kind of against what we usually watch. I chose to use little people instead because I thought it'd be cool to give them powers, and I've always secretly thought they really do have powers. [Laughs]. The looks of their characters are not influenced by Western movies, I met albino little people before so I thought it'd be quite cool to make the characters albino.

Why do you think our horror stories are much scarier than Western ones?

Eric Khoo: The reason is because we believe. Like in Thailand, it's either you're into black arts or white arts. I think it's also because we're superstitious, so it comes out in our work. Look at the Japanese, when Takumi Saitoh told me there's such a thing as a hay spirit, I was like "Wow". Then he goes, "Mine will be about a haunted tatami mat." Because a lot of them are into Shintoism, they believe that when you do die, your spirit is earth-bound for eternity. That's why if you die in a bad situation, you're gonna have a grudge for all the rest of eternity.

Do you believe in the supernatural then? If yes, which supernatural being do you find is the scariest?

Eric: I believe. My story is about a teenage pontianak but I see her more as a creature, like a vampire, rather a paranormal being. I find that the toyol is kinda creepy, also kinda sad at the same time.

Eric Khoo finds toyol creepy while Ho Yuhang is "immune" to supernatural beings.

Have you ever experienced anything supernatural yourself?

Ho: I've stayed in some pretty haunted hotel but I didn't know that. Only after the fact, people told me. The people who went with me they all experienced something. They felt like somebody breathing next to them while they were sleeping but I'm totally immune.

Do you think the series will attract international audiences? Is there something different that it brings to the table?

Eric: With the different directors that we have – like Pen-Ek's episode, it's really funny, like black comedy and it's of a spirit I never heard of before until he told me – we're discovering things. I think that will also attract the international audience because the stories are contemporary and the spirits we're dealing with are quite fascinating.

Ho: Sometimes our story can be format driven, you know after ten minutes the scare is coming, you know there's something going on. But every director has his own style, that's what's fun about it.

Eric: With every director that we spoke to, within a month or so the treatments came in. We liked all the original ideas, we didn't really stray much from them, we were just sharpening them into better script. Interestingly enough, looking back now that we see all the episodes, the one thing that threads every episode together on a very subconscious level, is that it's parent and child. There's some hint of that.

Ho: Of course, we didn't know each other's story.

Eric: When we were reading [the script], we never really thought about it but when we were watching the series, that is the consistent thread.

Eric, you must have watched all episodes, which one is your favourite and which is the scariest?

Eric: I like them all for specific reasons. In terms of the scariest, I'd say the Japanese one, there's just something about the tatami mats that freak me out.

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