Singaporean filmmaker, Eric Khoo has numerous film accolades under his belt, but this year, he’s focused his talents on HBO’s Folklore. As the showrunner of the horror anthology series, Khoo was responsible in pulling together the region’s best filmmakers to tell their respective stories.
Folklore takes place across six Asian countries – Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand – with each episode based on each country’s deeply-rooted myths and folklore, featuring supernatural beings and occult beliefs.
Helmed by different directors from various countries in Asia, each episode of the six-episode hour-long horror series was filmed in the local language of the country that the episode is based in. the series seeks to modernise or update Asian horror, showcasing the brand of horror that each country is characteristic of and exploring societal dysfunctions in a manner that is specific to the country but possessing themes that will resonate across the continent.
With the series garnering rave reviews, we sought out Khoo to find out more about his involvement in the series, his take on horror and what makes Folklore truly that special.
The idea for Folklore is really unique, how did the idea for the series come about?
It goes back to my love for The Twilight Zone and I basically pitched this idea to HBO about making a horror anthology series that was directed by Asian directors. The reason for that is because we have such a rich background in folklore in our respective cultures but I had a specific criteria and that was each production had to be filmed in the native language. Fortunately, HBO was pretty receptive to the idea,
How did you go about picking your directors?
I knew who had in mind, but I made it a point to not make the series about explicit gore. Growing up with films like The Exorcist, Sixth Sense, all those good stories, and I wanted to bring that to Folklore. The directors I had in mind were auteur filmmakers, very individualistic and some haven’t even done horror before.
And explain the collaborative process then…
Well, once the selection process was done and the scripts were approved, I let the directors handle the story as how they wanted it to be told. I didn’t want to control them. We had several producers going to these countries to work with filmmakers, just to assist them along and it was a truly thriving synergy of talent that resulted in these films coming together.
Asian horror seems to be scarier, why is that?
I think it’s because we believe in ghosts and the spirit world. We’re superstitious that way in our culture so that provides a bridge into the interest in the supernatural. It’s also relatable across different Asian cultures, I mean if you look around the region, there are variations to folklore legends like the Toyol – there are versions of that Vietnam as with the Pontianak, there are types of permutations in Indonesia and Philippines as well.
Did you have a favourite episode in the series?
I liked them for specific reasons to be honest. I felt that each director brought his own unique vision to each story. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang told a story about a spirit most of us never even heard before and he went with almost a black comedy route, which worked really well. Every director stayed away from the jump scare elements, which to me was refreshing, because I’ve always felt that a good horror story is the one that stays in your mind, even after a while. It reminds me of stories like Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, which are more cerebral in that sense, you sort of feel and sympathise with the spirit.
What about the scariest?
Personally for me that would be the Japanese one. There is just something about Tatami Mats that just freaks me out. But that said, looking back now, there’s a common thread and subtext, which is the stories all involve parent and child.
Are you happy with the overall product?
Yes, because they’re all very different and not really format driven. I feel that there was a lot of originality and the treatments were really very good. Because of that I believe the stories will attract a wide audience as the stories told are pretty contemporary and the subject of spirits are always appealing.
So we’ll see Folklore Season 2?
I can say HBO is very pleased with what we’ve produced. As for a season 2, we’re talking but we’ll wait and see what develops in the months ahead.
HBO Asia’s Folklore anthology series featuring films by Eric Khoo, Joko Anwar (Indonesia), Takumi Saitoh (Japan), Sang-Woo (Korea), Ho Yuhang (Malaysia) and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand) are screening now on HBO (Astro Ch 411 / 431 HD). The series will also be available on HBO On Demand (via Astro Go).