“New Monster”: The Rise of Southeast Asian Horror Movies | Art Culture News


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The premiere of Roh (“soul” in Malay) on Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar, this is a supernatural demon horror film and the first feature film of Malaysian director Emil Ezwan, marking a new wave The international achievements of low-cost horror works are in Southeast Asia.

Roh made his global debut on June 1 and was filmed in the Dengkil forest south of Kuala Lumpur within two weeks, with a budget of 360,000 ringgits (88,500 US dollars). It made its debut on movie screens in Malaysia and Singapore in August 2020, just before the new wave of COVID-19 infections closed theaters.

At the 93rd Academy Awards held in April, the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) selected Roh Moo-hyun as an unlikely candidate to represent this narrow country in the international feature film category, which attracted the attention of the film industry for the first time.

Despite being nominated for film festivals in the United States, Italy, Singapore and Indonesia, Roh Moo-hyun did not make the long list of Oscars. But it has joined the list of movies inspired by Southeast Asian nightmares, which are attracting the attention of industry participants and horror fans around the world and bringing recognition to the grassroots film industry in the region.

Unconventional Demon

Roh is an unforgettable story about a demon possessed by a demon who took place on the edge of a tropical rainforest during the war. A broken family welcomes a strange girl covered in mud and blood into their home. When she finally speaks after a few days of eerie silence, her terrible curse will mark the beginning of her entry into true hell.

Emir Ezwan and the staff during the filming of Roh [Courtesy of Kuman Films]

This movie stands out because of its fusion of Islamic folklore and Malay black magic, atmospheric rainforest environment and old-world Malay costumes. The famous British film director Edgar Wright praised Roh Moo-hyun on Twitter in March this year as “a great thing”, including 2004’s “Sean of the Dead”.

Amir Muhammad, an independent publisher of Malay-language pulp fiction, said: “The Netflix deal (on a global scale except North America) was achieved thanks to our sales agent TBA Studios in the Philippines. The film market has been representing Roh. and English, film director and managing director of Kuman Films in Kuala Lumpur, to Al Jazeera.

Roh is the production company’s second and highest-achieving four films, including James Lee’s Mandarin psychological horror film “Two Sisters” (2019) and Prem Nath’s “Iruul: Ghost Hotel” (2021). Irul may be the “first horror film discovered” in Tamil in Southeast Asia and around the world.

Amir is now happy to see the reaction of audiences around the world to Lu. He told Al Jazeera: “We never expected it to happen, but fans in Spain and Portugal have posted a lot of tweets about it.”

Bloody innovation

Thomas Barker, a lecturer in film and television at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur, and author of “Indonesian Films After the New Order: Going to the Mainstream”, said: “Southeast Asian filmmakers are innovating something that is already a bit old in the West. Genre… with familiar metaphors, storylines and monsters,” he told Al Jazeera.

Supernatural folklore has long inspired generations of writers, directors and artists in Southeast Asia. Ghost stories are a firmly established genre that has become a bestseller and blockbuster.

Some of the most famous monsters originated from the ancient animistic beliefs shaped by Hindu-Buddhist cosmology and later Islam, including “pontianak”-known as “kuntilanak” in Indonesia-a carnivorous creature, A person appeared after death. A pregnant woman in childbirth is usually portrayed as a beautiful young woman who likes blood.

Then there is “toyol”, an undead baby that resembles an imp, which can be summoned by shamans to help with black magic rituals, while in Malaysia, “orang minyak” (“oil man”) is a human form coated with smooth black grease Creatures who kidnap and rape young women. Perhaps the weirdest is “Penang Island”, a female vampire whose head and tail organs are still attached to her severed neck. It will chase menstrual blood at night.

Barker believes that as companies such as Netflix, HBO, and Disney+ increasingly look for new and competitive content to attract regional audiences, the movies and TV series they can source from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are also very attractive. , Because their production cost is lower than similar European or Australian products.

“The streaming media platform has made the world a big market where everyone can watch any movie from any country, including Indonesia. I can only be grateful for that,” director Joko Anwar (Joko Anwar) , He is one of the leading figures in the current new wave of Indonesian horror films, told Al Jazeera. His 2017 film Pengabdi Setan (Slave of Satan) is a loose remake of the 1980 Sisworo Gautama Putra classic film of the same name. It is the highest-grossing horror film ever in Indonesia and has been released in 42 countries/regions and has been widely acclaimed. .

Ride the wind and waves

“Satan’s Slave” has aroused the international community’s curiosity about horror films in Indonesia and other regions. These horror films lack the budget of well-known Korean films and are often regarded as derivative and junk films.

Joko Anwar (right) in Satan’s slave studio [Courtesy of Joko Anwar]

However, international horror fans who missed the classic European and North American horror films of the late 1970s and 1980s praised Southeast Asian films for their similar production processes—fast and cheap—and super bloody. Their unfamiliar characters and original environment use the region’s rich and little-known ghost folklore to add additional fresh air to the saturated global horror film industry.

Joko’s latest film, Perempuan Tanah Jahanam (distributed internationally under the name Impetigore), won 17 nominations and 6 victories at the Citra Awards, the top film festival in Indonesia, before being screened at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. It was also nominated as the official film for this year’s Oscars in Indonesia, and was listed as one of the best international films of 2020 by the influential horror news portal “Bloody Disgusting.”

Immediately after this success, Impetigore was selected and released by the American terrorist streaming giant Shudder, which is a digital platform under the theater chain AMC. The Indonesian horror film that also hit the US market is “The Queen of Black Magic” (Ratu Ilmu Hitam, 2019, a remake of Liliek Sudjio’s Indonesian cult film in 1981), directed by Kimo Stamboel, written by Joko, and May the Timo Tjahjanto “The Devil Takes You Away.”

Timo will soon direct the upcoming remake of the 2016 Korean Zombie Apocalypse blockbuster “Travel to Busan”, which will be screened in Hollywood’s new line theaters. The screenwriter Gary Dauberman will star in the Annabel trilogy. “I’m obviously happy to work with such a great horror writer. If you compare the original train to Busan as a ballet, it will be a hardcore mosh pit dance,” Timo told Al Jazeera.

Timo is excited about the success of Indonesian horror films, but he also believes that the industry is not growing fast enough, and there is still a long way to go to defeat the “great wave of Korean movie magic that people like me can only awe in”.

Timo said that when the situation improved, COVID-19 also dealt a heavy blow to the local film industry. “I am a realist and love fans and excitement, but I feel that sometimes we have to go beyond the hype and realize that we are not doing our best here yet.”

Local panic

For Thomas Barker, the localization of plots and scenes is the key to the success of this genre. “By drawing on local folklore and experience, while also deeply aware of the global horror genre, filmmakers are bringing new ideas, including new types of monsters and monsters,” he told Al Jazeera.

An example is Joko’s Impetigore, which tells the story of the Mayans, played by Tara Pasero, a young and impoverished Jakarta woman who decides to return to her ancestral village Harjosari to pursue what she thinks is hidden family wealth. She soon learned that her father’s legacy was of a more pathological nature-this legacy was not only directly derived from Indonesia’s ghostly folklore, but also from its cultural traditions such as “wayang kulit” (Javanese shadow play) .

“This is not a choice, it is natural,” Joko said. “I grew up reading and being told about this type of folklore. It is even taught in Indonesian textbooks.”

Another recent Malaysian low-budget horror film, director Ray Lee’s “Belaban Hidup – Infeksi Zombie” (2021) will bring the uniqueness of Dayak culture to East Malaysia and Kaliman, Indonesia on the island of Borneo. The indigenous people of Dan are famous for their former headhunters in the world’s first zombie movie with the Dayak tribe as the background. Dayak is the general term for aboriginal people, including Iban and Bida friends.

Belaban Hidup tells the story of a secret organization that moved from Madagascar to Borneo to establish a fake clinic and continue to experiment on humans. When a group of imprisoned orphans found a way to escape, they released a large group of carnivorous zombies in the nearby tropical rainforest, and the local tribe was involved in the struggle. “My movie wants to promote Dayak culture, language and habitat to the world,” Li told Al Jazeera.

This theme will undoubtedly help the film win 13 awards at film festivals from Singapore to Canada, the most recent being the Russian International Horror Film Festival and the Asian Cinematography Awards in the Philippines.

Still life from Roh.The film is set in the Malaysian forest and was shot in the south of Kuala Lumpur [courtesy of Kuman Films]

“When people in West Malaysia still don’t know much about the Dayaks, many international awards show how the world is curious to see their beautiful and unique culture,” Li said.

Belaban Hidup is still struggling to find an official distributor in Malaysia. As part of the government’s latest “total lockdown”, cinemas have been closed to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases.

But thanks to the opportunities offered by international movie streaming platforms, the future of Southeast Asian horror movies still seems to flourish.

“The movie version will not be due to additional marketing costs and standard operating procedures for the coronavirus, and will anyway limit the feasibility of audience numbers this year,” Amir Mohamed told Al Jazeera. “It would be nice to go back to widescreen distribution, but at least for our next two films, Screaming Sky and Pride, we will definitely only focus on the streaming premieres.”


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