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Thai auteur’s fears: Natural disasters, Trump, the world turning right-wing

By: - Writing Editor
/ 12:20 AM September 29, 2018

Kazuki Kitamura

SINGAPORE—Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang doesn’t watch TV, nor is he into scary movies. But he’s very much attracted to dark stories, and is one of the auteurs tapped for HBO’s new horror series “Folklore,” debuting on Oct. 7.

So, how did he adjust his filmmaking sensibilities to suit a cable show?

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“I didn’t—I would’ve shot a film, anyway,” Ratanaruang told the Inquirer during a roundtable interview at the launch. He added, however, that there were limitations.

“Just time and money, two things we never have enough [of],” he quipped. Turning serious, he said, “You only have seven days to do it. We had to be super efficient. One of the limitations would be the technique that we wanted … to use the mirror to reflect the ‘ghost,’ instead of [using] CG. That made it really difficult. But apart from that, it was pretty smooth,” said the director, whose film credits include “Monrak Transistor” and “Headshot.” His “Folklore” episode, shot in black-and-white, is “Pob,” about a man-eating ghoul.

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“Pob is one of the most famous ghosts in Thai culture,” he said. “The origin is from the northeastern part of Thailand, considered to be where people are the least-educated. From the old days, when parents wanted [disobedient] kids to do something, like go to bed or eat, they would tell them, ‘Pob will come and scare you.’ So, he’s been used as a trick. Nowadays, he is even used in scams.”

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang—PHOTOS BY OLIVER PULUMBARIT

Ratanaruang, who found directing for the show “therapeutic,” said he is inspired by the unusual vision of musicians like Nick Cave and Tom Waits. When asked to disclose his real-life fears, he quickly replied, “[Can] I say Donald Trump? The whole world is turning right-wing. That’s scary for me. This year alone, there are many natural disasters. I mean, look at poor Japan. It’s like one after another. Natural disasters are the front-runner. Because we don’t take care of our [planet].”

Lightening up a bit, he added, “Film directors should scare you. We are a bunch of selfish people.” He further deadpanned, “We want what we want; we don’t care about other people. ‘I want this shot before the sun goes down; I don’t care if my crew is dying.’ They lie all the time!”

In a separate group interview, Japanese actor Kazuki Kitamura, who stars in the “Folklore” episode “Tatami,” has a different set of concerns.

“I don’t have any specific phobia, but I can say that I’m a worrywart, especially when it comes to my son,” Kitamura said through an interpreter. “Today, he is going to Los Angeles to study. I keep thinking about it. I’m not concerned about myself, but when it involves my family, I’m worried.”

The titular creature in the episode, “Pob.” —HBOASIA

He then audibly whispered in English to identify a person who makes him worry: “My manager.”

In the episode directed by his actor friend Takumi Saitoh, Kitamura plays Makoto, a deaf writer who encounters a strange apparition.

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“The challenge was to be as natural and realistic as I could be to portray a deaf character,” said Kitamura, who was in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1.”

On how the show differs from his usual projects, Kitamura explained, “What’s interesting about this project was that all the six countries (Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia) were actually working on the same production budget.” He found the friendly rivalry “special and interesting.”

The 49-year-old actor also disclosed, “HBO cannot be watched in Japan at the moment, but I have always been interested in it because of the lineup of programs. I’m personally grateful and honored to make an appearance.”

Asked if he’d be more comfortable portraying a being from Japanese myth or a superhero, Kitamura wasn’t quite sure he’d be a good fit for either.

“Most characters in Japanese horror stories are female… I can’t think of a character that represents me well,” he elaborated. “But there are characters that appear in anime and manga whose appearance resembles mine. I got cast many times, but I have not accepted them. I like them, but when it comes to movie adaptations, it’s very difficult [to please fans] … my ultimate goal is to entertain the audience—they’re my first priority.”

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TAGS: Folklore, HBO, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Pob, scary movies
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