Kelly: So, there’s a great quote from the late Wes Craven; “Horror films don’t create fear, they release it”. I’d read that the series aims to explore themes of societal dysfunctions, so what fears do you hope to release with your episodes?
Pen-Ek: I’m not sure how to answer… The aim is to entertain, I’m not trying to be scary, or trying to be funny, or trying to be dramatic. I think the aim, really, is to entertain. I think every one of the directors too, is trying to do that. I think my aim is to entertain. If you watch it and think it’s funny, that’s good, or if you think it’s scary, that’s good.
But what’s important to me, and what I find is really strong in the episode is that Thai people, we have this kind of mentality that we always feel, like, inferior when we meet like… Westerners, for example [all laugh]. We feel like we’re not good enough. And that’s very important to my episode.
The genesis of the ghost is that when you are scared of white guys when you are alive, and, you know, I can understand that. But I didn’t know that after I’m dead I would still be scared of them – I think that’s very important in my episode. Like we have to stop feeling not good enough, being inferior. I find that really endearing about Thai people, that we’re so fucking humble that we don’t get anywhere [all laugh]. For me, it’s really a lovely quality.
Kelly: As a Canadian, I get that [all laugh]. We’re way too polite about everything.
One of the things that I really loved about the episode that Pen-Ek directed is that clash between the Western businessman that comes in and has no idea about this culture and folklore, and what he’s up against, essentially. It’s interesting to see that clash where the ghost is trying do his thing and be scary – be a ghost, and this Westerner is just not having it [all laugh].
Pen-Ek: But with my episode, also, aside from making a horror film, we were also making fun of horror films at the same time. The jump scares and all that, that bathroom with a gross looking toilet in the hospital… no toilet would look like that! Only in a horror film! [all laugh]
Eric: And one of the things I really like about that episode is the photographer. I love that performance. You feel a lot for him. In 48 minutes, he manages to string a lot of different feelings into the episode.
For me, because the ghost in my episode is based on the Pontianak, the origin has it that it’s actually a woman who died (when pregnant), then she comes back. And I thought it would be interesting… in films like the horror ghosts of Japan, or whatever, you end up sympathizing with the spirit. Or like that movie, The Orphanage.
I didn’t want to make something that was “in your face”; I wanted to make something that was a little more creepy. For me, the main protagonist was the Pontianak, and I decided to make her a teenage girl. So you re-fashion it a bit, and it’s a young teenage girl, and so it’s more about humanity – in my perspective – because of that.
My episode will premiere at Sitges with the Japanese episode by Takumi Saitoh, and Pen-Ek’s was at TIFF with Joko Anwar’s episode (Indonesia). And then there’s Fantastic Fest which will be the Korean episode by Lee Sang-Woo, and Ho Yuhang from Malaysia, which is the one about the baby ghost.
Kelly: The first two episodes that I saw (at TIFF) are fantastic, I love that each brings their own culture in to the story.
Eric: I couldn’t believe that I got all these guys to do it, right? To completely honest, I didn’t know what I was going to end up with [all laugh]. When I got to see the first cut, I really loved that. I love them all! I just love them all. For me, it’s just like that. It’s exciting, you know? I feel like if we could collaborate more in Asia… that would be really exciting.
Pen-Ek: I really admire Eric, because this kind of project, this kind of omnibus project… it never works! [laughs] Because with some of the projects, the directors who are trying to do them… they seem to not take it seriously. They just make a shock film.
But this being, like… it’s not a half-hour project, it’s kind of like a horror film, you know? If you go twenty more minutes, you’ve got a feature film. And you have to take it seriously, because otherwise the episodes wouldn’t have enough meat. So I think a lot of credit to Eric because you find your passion from that. Some omnibus films, the directors will just kind of treat it as a side project. And it doesn’t work.
Eric: We had so much dedication from every director.
Kelly: Eric, how did you find the directors for this one?
Eric: I knew them! And I wanted to work with them, so I said “let me know”, and just sat back, and then we all came in to work.
Kelly: And it’s amazing that they’re bringing their personal folklore into it to represent their background and bring those stories forward.
Eric: Like for the Japanese episode, the Japanese believe in a hay spirit, and I didn’t know about that! So it’s cool, you know? And the Korean episode is about a guy and – when you die a virgin, you’re going to be very vengeful, and you’ll want a wife. And Koreans believe in Shamanism… a lot of voodoo…
Kelly: Like in The Wailing –
Eric: The Wailing, yeah! There’s a lot that goes behind it. A lot of Japanese horror ties into Shintoism. And they believe when you die a painful death, you will be earth-bound because you’re angry or feel regret. There’s a lot of ideas that you see from Japanese Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism… it’s combining their beliefs and stories. Like The Ring vs The Grudge. And the day they fought! I have the toys [laughs].
Folklore premieres on Sunday, October 7 exclusively on HBO Asia. The series will be streaming on HBO GO in the US in a couple of months, and will be available on HBO On Demand.