Glen Goei humanises a monster in 'Revenge of the Pontianak', and Nur Fazura saw a pontianak on set

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Malaysian actress Nur Fazura as the pontianak in Singaporean director Glen Goei's "Revenge of the Pontianak". (Photo: Tiger Tiger Pictures)

SINGAPORE — Director Glen Goei’s third feature film will be out in cinemas in Singapore next Thursday (29 August) and in Malaysia from 12 Sept – and it’s the first Singapore-produced pontianak film in 18 years.

Set in 1965 Malaysia, Revenge of the Pontianak is about a spirit that terrorises a village after the man she was in love with in life gets married to another woman. The dialogue is in Malay, accompanied by subtitles.

Glen co-directed the film with Malaysian director Gavin Yap. The cast, comprising actors from both sides of the Causeway, is headlined by Malaysian stars Nur Fazura as Mina the pontianak, and Remy Ishak as Khalid, her lover.

For those who are not familiar with the pontianak, in Malay folklore, it is the bloodthirsty ghost of a woman who dies during pregnancy or childbirth.

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Glen Goei co-directed "Revenge of the Pontianak" with Malaysian director Gavin Yap. (Photo: Tiger Tiger Pictures)

Glen told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore over the phone that he considers Revenge of the Pontianak a “love story” more so than horror (but we’ve watched it, and it’s definitely a scary film). The 56-year-old said that he made the film as an homage to the pontianak films whose reruns he watched as a kid in the ‘70s.

Most of Glen’s work is as an artistic director at local theatre company Wild Rice, but film has always been on his mind. Revenge of the Pontianak is his second film since Forever Fever (1998) put the Singapore film on the world map. In between, he made The Blue Mansion (2009), a political allegory about Lee Kuan Yew’s family.

Glen laments that Singaporeans rarely make pontianak films any more since the genre’s heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Cathay-Keris Studio made a trio of pontianak films, the first of which was released in 1957, and Shaw Brothers followed with its own pontianak trilogy. The last pontianak film made by a Singaporean was released 18 years ago – Djinn Ong’s Return to Pontianak (2001).

“Every male Singaporean who has gone through the army knows about the pontianak folklore,” said Glen. “Because when we go to the army, we always exchange stories about pontianak. When we go to field camp, or when we go into the jungles, we always tell stories about pontianak. So it's very much part of our psyche. And yet, it's funny that we don't have any pontianak films (nowadays), because the pontianak is very much part of our culture and heritage.”

Malaysian actress Nur Fazura as the pontianak in Singaporean director Glen Goei's "Revenge of the Pontianak". (Photo: Tiger Tiger Pictures)

Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore also spoke to Nur Fazura, who plays the titular pontianak, over the phone. She shared the spooky story that the crew, in fact, saw a pontianak during filming for Revenge of the Pontianak. She was waiting to shoot a scene in the village of Hulu Langat when the production manager first spotted the spirit lurking on the verandah of an abandoned house. “She was just sitting there wearing exactly what I was wearing (a white kebaya). I couldn't see her face because it was covered by her long hair.”

Luckily, the incident didn’t bother the crew and filming went on smoothly.

Glen said he attempted to humanise the pontianak in Revenge of the Pontianak by telling the story from her perspective. “I've always asked, why is she portrayed as an evil person? Why has she been demonised? And none of the old films seem to be able to answer that question. It was just accepted that this woman was evil. So I just dug into my creative imagination and tried to find an answer to satisfy myself.”

Fazura said, “Mina is a strong woman, and she has a really good heart, but she doesn’t take any shit. People will want to hate her, but eventually you will fall in love with her. You’re going to be on her side.”