HBO Asia’s six-episode series “Folklore” give U.S. audiences a glimpse at some of Asia’s most ominous and darkest lore.
The series encompasses stories across both east and southeast Asia: Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Another plus is that country natives directed episodes representing their respective countries and filmed locally in the national language. And looking a little deeper, the lead actors and actresses are also natives. Many films have been critiqued for not choosing cast members that accurately represent different communities. So, it looks like HBO Asia is already ahead of the curb on diversity and inclusion.
On the other hand, the series may not have the gall to scare viewers who watch horror for complete gore and macabre visuals. If you typically do not enjoy watching horror, this series is much more approachable. While the episodes do have the suspenseful moments that crescendo into a screaming monster and images of blood and guts, some episodes like “Pob” and “Nobody” feel a bit gimmicky at times and not scary. However, some of the episodes like “Tatami” use more subtle ways to make you tense up and shudder.
Although the episodes touch upon eerie tales specific to each country, U.S. viewers can absolutely enjoy and even relate. The series is in-line with “Lore” the podcast turned Amazon series by Aaron Mahnke. The podcast details odd and unexplained mysteries based on real-life events. Like “Folklore,” it harnesses similar themes and uncovers how obsession, desire, revenge, and envy can drive someone to do desperate and unforgivable things. And both leave you with questions, because some things can’t be explained.
If you’re interested in watching, here’s a ranking of each episode in the series to help you decide where to start.
Episode 2: “Tatami”
While “Tatami” won’t have you screaming or shaking with fear, the suspenseful storytelling is executed faultlessly. From the crosses made of tatami hanging from the ceiling to the main character Makoto’s vivid dreams, the visuals in this episode are memorable. Tatami are shown to be an important part of the home but also prove to be a part of more sinister events.
Episode 1: “A Mother’s Love”
With many twists and turns, “A Mother’s Love” will have you unsure of who to really trust. A mother finds children living in an attic, barely surviving without food. When she helps them escape, she begins to face the wrath of the angry spirit who lured the children. The main character struggles with how to be a good parent to her young son while questioning her mental state at the vengeful spirit’s behest.
Episode 6: “Mongdal”
In “Mongdal,” a teenage boy becomes obsessed with his classmates, keeps a life-size female doll as his prized possession, and exudes aggressive, defiant behavior. No one truly addresses his odd behavior. His mother scolds him and his classmates shun him. His ultimate death sends his mother on a mission involving a grave, a ritual, and a hammer. Get ready, this one will surprise you.
Episode 5: “Toyol”
This episode looks at the consequences of using witchcraft or black magic to get what you want. A hopeful politician trying to be everything his father wasn’t decides to ask a female shaman for help. He thinks he’s won, but he is sorely mistaken. While the episode won’t have you jumping out of your seat with fright or covering your eyes from gore, the storytelling will keep you interested.
Episode 4: “Pob”
This episode follows a financially-strapped blogger struggling to pay his mother’s medical bills. While reporting a murder, he happens upon Pob, a ghost wanting to tell the story of his untimely death. The effects in this episode are impressive and more developed than in the others. And if you’re looking for gore, this is your episode.
Pob eats human flesh, but he also sits listening to an American man talk about his love life, drives a cab, and goes to the doctor for a check-up—as a ghost. While it’s an attention-grabbing tale, it’s hard to find the ghost scary the more human he becomes. But maybe that’s the point.
Episode 3: “Nobody”
In “Noboby,” an overworked laborer slaves away with a construction crew to complete a new housing complex. While working, he finds a dead body wrapped in a blanket. After listening to his heart, he chooses not to burn the young girl’s body. In turn, he opens up the site to the vengeance of the Pontianak who eats human organs. The story is heartbreaking and gripping but the use of standard scare tactics makes it predictable and not scary.
Overall, the most interesting parts of this series are its unique stories not the attempts are frightening viewers. If you’re looking for traditional horror, you may be better off looking elsewhere. But check this serious out if you’re interested in storytelling, folklore, and enjoy international film. It’s available to stream February 1st on HBO.
You can also catch other international films on HBO streaming services, including Miss Sherlock from Japan, Golden Life from Hungary and Silent Valley from Romania.