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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — The Ghost Bride may be Netflix’s first Mandarin original series but Malaysia is getting all the attention it needs in the areas of stories, talents and film sets.
The series is based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Malaysian author Yangsze Choo with a storyline set in 19th century Malacca about a young woman who receives a proposal to become a “ghost bride” to a wealthy family’s recently deceased son.
Shot in Ipoh, Taiping, Penang and Johor’s then-Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, the six-episode series features a multinational cast including Malaysian talents like Jordan Voon, Susan Leong and Angeline Tan, a crew mostly made up of Malaysians, helmed by two homegrown directors Ho Yuhang and Quek Shio Chuan.
“We did a pretty extensive recce and Malaysia has a lot of cool places to shoot.
“Not just Penang (Island) but places like Butterworth and we shot there too.
“I didn’t know these places existed, there’s still a lot of unexplored territory,” Ho told Malay Mail.
The Rain Dogs filmmaker along with his co-director Quek, a newcomer who burst into the movie scene with his heartwarming 2018 film Guang, hope that the Netflix original will open more doors for other productions to choose Malaysia as a filming destination.
Though the series is set in colonial Malacca, Quek said Ghost Bride is a modern take on a period film that comes with a female lead (played by Taiwanese actress Huang Peijia) that resonates with women today.
“She’s a modern woman who doesn’t think that marriage should be forced upon her,” said Quek.
“She reads, dreams to travel, she wants to see the world — to me she’s just like a modern-day girl,” Ho added.
“She’s caught in this predicament, but not completely helpless and victimised but she wants to have a say for her life and herself.”
Fresh off the success of his 2018 debut film Guang, Quek said he wasn’t nervous or felt pressure when he embarked on the project with the streaming juggernaut and was paired up with a seasoned name in the indie scene like Ho.
“When I was presented with this opportunity to do something supernatural but in a new format with a seasoned director, I went in with a learning mentality and learned a lot from him,” said Quek.
He added that the experience of a big crew, a big set and working on a genre he has never explored before made it fun.
“I think we were very lucky because we wrapped on time and kept to our schedule of 12 hours a day.
“Sometimes shoots can go on for 16 hours and we don’t want to tire the crew and actors but we didn’t have that at all, everyone had enough rest days and there were no tantrums — we were so blessed,” said Ho.
Having delved into the ancient Chinese tradition of ghost marriage, a ritual still practised in some parts of China to ensure the unmarried dead have a companion in the afterlife, Quek said he is toying with the idea of a comedy with four bomohs (with doctors) from different ethnic groups who are trying to cure a possessed girl.
Quek said after shooting Ghost Bride, which takes the romance-murder mystery route instead of horror, he saw the fun side of the supernatural genre.
“It allows you a lot of space to get creative and bring the emotions to a lot of spectrum,” said Quek.
For the longest time, Ho said he had been fascinated by gong tau, a term used by the Chinese community in South-east Asia that refers to black magic.
“It comes in various scary manifestations like a curse and I’ve been writing this story for a long time based on my friend’s family story but I took the gist of it and made it my own.
“I don’t know when it will happen but it’s not so easy to do because it’s something you cannot — you vomit blood that has nails in them and puke hair for example,” said Ho on other folklore he would like to explore in future works.
The Ghost Bride premieres on Netflix on January 23.