HBO Asia’s “Folklore” is a six-episode, hour-long series that takes place across six Asian countries – Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Each episode is based on a country’s deeply-rooted myths and folklore, featuring supernatural beings and occult beliefs. The respective episodes are helmed by a director from that country and filmed locally in the country’s primary language. In the particular segment, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang deals with the myth of the Pob, a ghost that feeds on human intestines and has featured in a number of Thai horror films
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A wealthy neighborhood is shaken by a murder. John Conrad, an American who recently moved to Thailand to take over as the new head of an international corporation, is found with his stomach ripped open, his guts missing, and a piece of cheese in his mouth. Manop, a journalist under financial strain, comes to the crime scene to report on the murder. There, he meets an unexpected visitor – the bloodthirsty Pob The journalist makes a pact with the apparition, interviews him, and finds out all about the traumatic events of the previous night, which had the ghost conversing with a man who spoke in a language it did not understand, and furthermore, took the pob for a beggar.
Ratanaruang directs the most diverse episode in the series, both in terms of narrative and aesthetics. Regarding the first element, the difference derives from the rather unusual, as in ironic and subtle, sense of humor the director implemented in the film, which, quite frequently, makes the source of terror (the phob) appearing as the victim, both in his interaction with Conrad, and in a number of other episodes. One of the main sources of this comedy is the way the ghost reacts to the blubbering of the American, constantly looking stupefied at the ignorance of the man in from of him, and the way he tells of the story to Manop, in a way that includes much whining. Parama Wutthikornditsakul, who is, usually, an extra in Thai films, does a great job in presenting this rather unusual ghost, with his facial expressions during the interaction with Conrad being the best asset of his performance.
Through this concept, Ratanaruang makes a point of highlighting the ignorance regarding the local culture of the foreigners who live in Thailand, and the sense of dominance they feel in their interactions with the locals, in a comment with political overtones.
Regarding the aesthetics, this is the only episode in the series filmed in black and white, with Ratanaruang’s choice giving a retro and cult essence to the film, much similar to horror b-movies of the past. Chankij Chamnivikaipong’s cinematography is excellent, both in the general presentation of the film and the few (and mostly brief) gory scenes. The jump scares are here also, with the combination of Padtamanadda Yukol editing and Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr’s sound having great results. Regarding Yukol’s work, the film implements a relatively slow pace, which occasionally lingers towards the art-house, while for a large part, it functions as a stage play, with two people conversing in the same setting, although the intervals are quite frequent, heightening the entertainment aspect of the film.
As I have read, HBO had some objections, regarding the narrative, the casting (most of the cast are amateurs) and the black-and-white film, but I am glad they allowed Ratanaruang to shoot it as he wanted to, which resulted in a truly impressive and quite original movie.