With a title like Dendam Pontianak, it’s a given that it is a horror flick. However what directors Glen Goei and Gavin Yap didn’t anticipate was that the filming process was going to be a horrible experience as well.
After a serene one-week shoot in Tronoh, Perak, the cast and crew made their way to Hulu Langat, Selangor, to shoot their next scenes. Here, however, the filming had to be stopped almost on a daily basis as the location was constantly bombarded by heavy rain.
Singaporean Goei mentioned during an interview: “It rained every day, and sometimes it rained for three to four hours, heavy rain nonstop.
“It was a very difficult shoot because of the weather. (After a downpour) all of us had to shovel gravel onto the puddles of water just so we could continue filming.”
Lead actor Remy Ishak recalled the weather clearly too. The 37-year-old said the rain was disruptive to his acting process.
“Just as you are getting ready to cry for an emotional scene, we have to stop as the rain started to pour. Then you have to hold it all in until the rain stops. It created havoc to my emotional state quite a bit,” the actor said.
Despite the challenges, Dendam Pontianak’s shoot was completed and the movie will hit cinemas on Sept 12.
Set in the 1960s, the joint Singapore-Malaysia production tells of a newly married couple who suddenly experiences a hiccup in their domestic bliss when a pontianak enters their home and lives. But this is no ordinary female spirit of a woman that had died during childbirth; it’s a supernatural being that seeks revenge against the man who didn’t keep his promise.
Playing the role of this vengeful spirit is Nur Fazura, who says the audiences can expect a different kind of pontianak in this film.
“What’s interesting about my character is, she doesn’t wear a kaftan, but a red kebaya. Also this is a woman we can relate to – she is someone who falls in love completely with a man, who promises her forever. When he breaks that promise, she comes back,” she said.
One thing that the kebaya does immediately is hark back to old classic Malay films in which the outfit used to feature heavily.
That is exactly Goei’s intent. The 57-year-old confessed, as a child, he loved watching the black-and-white movies produced by Malay Film Productions (formed by Runme Shaw and Run Run Shaw).
“Any shows and reruns set in the 1970s on TV, I would watch them. Although I can’t remember the plotlines very well, I just remember the sceneries of a kampung with banana trees, coconut trees and tropical jungle in the background. It was exotic and mysterious to me.
“Also, I grew up next to a kampung, so I was familiar with the sounds of a kampung – being woken up to roosters crowing, etc. It was just something I grew up with.
“Having not seen elements like these in films any more, I wanted to pay homage to that classical horror but give it a contemporary spin,” said Goei, who has been active in Singapore theatre since the late 1980s and has directed films such as Forever Fever and The Blue Mansion.
As it turned out, Remy shares Goei’s love of this era.
“I love working in films that are set in the olden days. Seeing all the old cars and buildings come alive on the set, and wearing the clothes from that era are something I enjoy tremendously,” said Remy, who also time-travelled to yesteryears in last year’s period piece Pulang.
It was one of the reasons why Remy agreed to work in Dendam Pontianak, although he had trepidation about the genre.
“I don’t like watching horror movies,” explained the Melaka-born actor.
“I used to enjoy them, but now that I live alone, my imagination gets the better of me when I watch horror movies. But, I have no problems acting in one.”
Goei did hit a snag when they were looking for the right actress to play the pontianak. “I just couldn’t find a lead actress that I really wanted,” admitted the director. His discovery of Fazura came in a most unusual manner – his mother recommended her.
“I was visiting my mum and talking to her about the difficulties I was facing in finding the lead actress. And my mum was praising this girl on TV, the host of Facing Up To Fazura, saying she’s so pretty and just so full of life.”
A meeting later, Fazura nabbed the role.
“It was a two-year process to cast all these actors, it wasn’t easy. This is a difficult role, and the shoot, as it turned out, was a challenging one. So for me, it was important to find an actress who was willing to take directions,” said Goei.
Others in the cast are Hisyam Hamid, Nam Ron, Tony Eusoff and Shenty Feliziana.
Dendam Pontianak also boasts the talent of Datuk Sri Siti Nurhaliza, who sings the film’s theme song, Kasihku Selamanya, composed by Aubrey Suwito and lyrics by Ad Samad.
As to why he chose to tell a pontianak’s tale, Goei answered: “I’m not afraid of ghosts, or spirits. In fact, I’m very curious to know about their lives and their stories; why they still haven’t crossed to the other world, there must be a reason.
“As a filmmaker and as a storyteller, I’m always curious about the stories of ghosts and spirits. What is unusual about Dendam Pontianak is that, I’m telling the story from her point of view because I’m curious to know, why has this character been demonised through the centuries?
“And in Asia, in particular, which is a patriarchal society, why is it the woman that’s demonised? That’s the question that I asked myself when I began writing this story.”