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Pontianak Returns to Haunt our Silver Screen

By Say Peng  /  16 Aug 2019 (Friday)

Revenge of the Pontianak

In the heyday of Singapore's golden era of cinema from the 1950s to 1970s, the Pontianak, known from Malay mythology to be a female vampiric ghost who suffered a tragic death during childbirth, was a popular mainstay of the horror genre. 

It started in 1957 with Cathay-Keris' Pontianak, whose success led to two sequels, Dendam Pontianak (Revenge of the Pontianak), released the same year, and Sumpah Pontianak (Curse of the Pontianak, released in 1958. 

Rival studio Shaw Brothers followed suit by its own trilogy of Pontianak films: Anak Pontianak (Son of Pontianak), Pontianak Kembali (The Pontianak Returns), and Pusaka Pontianak (The Pontianak Legacy).

2001 saw a low-budget Blair Witch Project-inspired English-language Pontianak movie called Return to Pontianak.

As if permanently exorcised, the Pontianak was missing from the silver screen for the ensuing years, but of late, she has been enjoying a resurgence of popularity.

Cathay-Keris' Anak Pontianak will be screened at the Arts House tomorrow (17 August): https://www.theartshouse.sg/whats-on/anak-pontianak​

Last year, HBO Asia premiered the horror anthology series Folklore. One of the episodes, "Nobody", written by Amanda Lee Koe and directed by showrunner Eric Khoo, is set in a construction site where the body of a dead girl is discovered. A construction worker unwittingly removes a nail from the neck of the dead girl and releases the Pontianak to kill the people who disturbed her.

Intent on humanizing the Pontianak are Forever Fever director Glenn Goei and Malaysian actor-director Gavin Yap, the co-directing duo behind Revenge of the Pontianak.

Set in Malaysia in 1965, the film follows a newly married couple, Khalid and Siti, who is being haunted by a vengeful Pontianak. 

While the directors were inspired by the "look and feel of film classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s," they have taken a more revisionist and empathetic approach in their portrayal of the Pontianak.

They "chose to tell the story from the perspective of the Pontianak for a change. You see and understand the motivations behind the actions of the monster.”

Revenge of the Pontianak will screen in cinemas from 29 August.

Pontianak fans can also look forward to Raihan Halim's Ibu, which tells the story of a friendship between an eight-year-old girl and a Pontianak. Ibu is slated for release later this year. 
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