Traditional tales

Folklore showrunner and a director talk about Asian superstitions and season two

(Photos © HBO Asia)

Anyone who lives in Asia knows that the countries are a treasure trove of supernatural beliefs that scared the living daylights out of us as kids -- and perhaps even now, as adults. With Folklore, iconic Singaporean director Eric Khoo takes the helm as showrunner as he gathers superstitions and myths from across Asia in an anthology series with each episode directed by different directors like Indonesia's Joko Anwar, the Philippines' Erik Matti and even first-time director Seiko Matsuda, who is known for her singing and acting career in Japan. The second season of the anthology series premieres on Nov 14 on HBO Go. Guru speaks with Khoo and Matsuda, who directed the second episode, about the series.

How did you convince Matsuda to write and direct an episode in season two?

Khoo: Seiko bought me dinner and we started talking about ghost stories; she knows I love ghost stories. Then she asks, 'Do you want to hear this ghost story that happened to me?' I felt she had something very strong and I knew that she was also interested in directing. I really value her take on stuff. I find it very sensitive, creative and smart. I always thought it would be cool if I could produce something for her to direct. I know she's not much of a horror fan, but after she told me this story, it stayed in my mind and I asked if she would write and direct it. If you look at the six episodes, they're all diverse and very different. Seiko's episode is the one with a love story and it's really, really beautiful.

Seiko Matsuda.

Matsuda: I never expected that I'd direct a horror movie, but it was a wonderful experience for me.

Does each director get free rein on each episode or are there guidelines they need to adhere to?

Khoo: Essentially, I'll just call the directors that I appreciate to come on board and discuss with them what the series is about. We'll have a lot of conversations and the most important thing is to come out with something that we're happy about. Once we get everything is when production begins; after we've gone through the casting and who we want to be on board. I let the director do what he or she wants. I respect them as filmmakers and I don't want to control them because I want the episodes to shine on their own merit and to be as diverse as possible.

What was it like to work with Khoo?

Matsuda: When I worked on Ramen Teh with Eric, I was watching what he did and I learned much from him as a director and as a human being. He's a wonderful person and he's a wonderful director so it was a great experience for me. He gave me wonderful advice. When we started shooting, he couldn't come to Japan because of Covid-19, so I was alone. But he gave me courage. Every morning, he sent me an email saying, 'Have a good day. You can do it. Go for it', which I really appreciated. He was always giving me strength and courage.

Eric Khoo.

What was your first time directing like?

Matsuda: I'm not going to say easy, but I talked to Eric a lot. I believed in my actors and they brought wonderful acting skills so it was smooth. It was a wonderful experience creating a story with a group of talented people.

How does season two differ from season one?

Khoo: In season one, we wanted a social commentary for the episodes, a bit like the Twilight Zone with a moral. We also wanted a lot of family kind of situations. With season two, we wanted to up the horror factor to make the episodes more frightening and also to make them more distinct in terms of execution. In Seiko's episode, it's a bit of a romantic horror story. Then you have something like the Thai episode, which is very immersive in the levels of black magic and very horrific. If anything, looking at this particular season, we explore more of the horror aspect and also black magic, witchcraft, exorcism, that sort of stuff.

Do Asian horror stories have to be radically changed for a Western audience?

Khoo: In Asia, we come out with very strong and interesting horror stories and I think a lot of that deals with us believing in ghosts. In Thailand, I used the black arts because it's actually there. Look at some of Joko Anwar's horror films. I don't think you need to change much of it. It's pretty universal but yet intrinsically Indonesian in its depiction. I think coming from this part of the world, I'm definitely a bigger fan of Asian horror than Western horror.

Matsuda: I watched season one and I learned that there are so many kinds of folklore in each country. I think we don't have to do anything but just tell our country's supernatural stories. I'm so interested in every country's folklore stories and I think others will be, too.

HBO is known for being no-holds-barred in terms of gore and violence but was there a story you pitched that they thought was too much to be put on screen?

Khoo: Yes, there was one that got axed quite early on. I can't really give any details. Maybe I'll do it as a feature film!

Folklore season two premieres on HBO Go on Nov 14. "The Day The Wind Blew", the episode directed by Seiko Matsuda, drops on Nov 21.

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