It’s fright night on HBO Go, where early Halloween terrors take the spectral form of a “phi pob”, a murderous Thai ghost with an appetite for still-warm human entrails.
“Pob” (October 28 at 10pm; showing simultaneously on Now TV channel 115) is episode four of HBO Asia’s flesh-prickling Folklore series of six short horror films from across the continent, each rooted in a nation’s occult myths.
Myths? Consider while viewing that last year the Thai constabulary’s very own ghostbusters were deployed in an eastern province to confront a malevolent female phi pob that villagers blamed for four dead cows and several sick police officers.
HBO Go’s demon, meanwhile, is brought (back?) to life in black and white by renowned Thai filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who showed “Pob” to no little acclaim at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, its Primetime category featuring big-screen-capable programmes made with what the festival calls a “cinematic” quality.
Perhaps here they had in mind the B-movie special effects of the 1950s, which are recalled by certain scenes in which the phi pob, who calls himself a “ravenous ghost” (forget merely “hungry”), gorges on a victim’s bloody insides. Quite why a spectre should need sustenance at all we’ll let pass for now.
This particular phi pob has gone looking for fresh meat in the house of an American man, and with no common language between them, the kindly farang believes the ghost to be a beggar and offers him a sandwich. Similarly unable to communicate, the spirit, who in life had been a meek taxi driver robbed and gunned down by a passenger, becomes so frustrated that he kills the farang so as to feast. But don’t worry, the story isn’t without comedy: the ghost walks into a door, not through it, and, with the aid of a dictionary, calls himself a goat.
All of this is told in flashback as the phi pob confesses to a journalist (well, who else?) and demands that his story be published online – having first clarified, “What the hell is a blogger?” The reporter, however, is made of sterner stuff and refuses until the two have struck a deal. The pair make a decidedly odd couple, the journalist needing help with money, and the ghost routinely complaining like a D-list celebrity craving fame. He’s not even happy with the guts of his first American, remarking, “His intestines were tasteless.”
There’s no pleasing some dead people.
A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities reaches maximum mushiness
The cheese-o-meter gave up this week, when its flittering needle crashed through the red zone during A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities .
Li Nien-Nien, played by Tammy Chen, is a trainee Chinese medicine practitioner from Taipei who swaps homes with San Francisco-based engineer Josephine Huang (Peggy Tseng). This week, breaking point came when Nien-Nien’s father, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, finally admitted that his potions were no match for the cancer attacking him and that a Western-style operation was essential. The family bickering – which illuminated, again, the series’ central traditional-versus-modern theme – ended in poignant scenes as Dr TCM was wheeled into surgery in Taipei.
At the time of writing, Nien-Nien’s life swap with new best friend Josephine was about to resume, with Nien-Nien ready to return to California. Or was she? The tangled love interests and equally knotty multi-generational baggage of both had left them, plus their sometimes reluctant boyfriends, on the same side of the Pacific, at the expense of yet more lingering shots of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
I suspect Netflix won’t allow this maudlin but endearing series to remain geographically lopsided for long, so with much more transoceanic goo promised, I’m off to find an indestructible cheese gauge.