What does ‘til death do us part’ mean when your husband-to-be is already six feet under? That’s the hook of this Netflix Original. But the real magic might be what it says about the rise of Asia’s fantasy fusion.
Ask moviegoers about their favorite fantasy series and Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones would come up frequently. The genre has been around for ages, but fantasy is still synonymous with Western (and mostly European) lore. Magicians ride brooms, royals live in brick-walled castles and fairies are golden-haired. These stories have universal appeal, but one wonders why lantern-lit night markets in Singapore or Penang’s mural-painted streets can’t be seen as equally magical in these works of fiction. For that matter, why do magicians use wands instead of laundry poles? Questions, questions.
Of course Chinese wuxia dramas, Japan’s whimsical animated films, Indonesia’s urban legend tales and Korean dramas with magical angles have been around since our grandfather’s time. But aside from the occasional worldwide hit from established names, amazing and culturally rich fantasy productions from Southeast Asia have not been as popular globally. From language barrier to distribution issues, storytellers are facing limitations to get their content seen by the mainstream Western market. But the tide is slowly turning. And Southeast Asia’s new creative talents are asserting their voice.
All this came to mind when we looked at the first trailer for The Ghost Bride, the next Netflix Original content debuting January 23rd. Set in Melaka, the series tells the story of a young woman, Li Lan, who agrees to enter into an arranged marriage with a rich family’s dead scion and begins a suspenseful journey into an underworld realm packed with sinister threats and thrills, while keeping her wits (and her life) intact. The trailer also hints at a love triangle and true to the genre, there’s a family member in peril that motivates Li Lan to take the plunge into the unknown.
Here’s some of the things that make this ‘Asian Fantasy-Fusion’ interesting, and what it says about how Asia’s content creators will reshape the genre.
1. It’s based on an Asian storyteller’s work
The tale is adapted from the best-selling novel of Malaysian author Yangsze Choo. History-infused fantasy is an exciting opportunity to bring across lesser-known traditions and nuances in Asia, and local authors know it best. What’s more, 90% of the cast and crew are made up of Malaysians, giving this series that authentic local stamp.
2. It shows an exciting mix of talents
From Huang Pei Jia, the Taiwanese actress who portrays Li Lan, to Quek Shio Kuan, the up-and-coming Malaysian director who co-directed this feature to learn from veteran director Ho Yuhang, this project brings together an exciting mix of pan-Asian creators. Given the way culture, food and idea flow freely across the great bowl of Asia, this seems only right.
3. It rides on Netflix’s visibility
Netflix has been steadily building content for the Southeast Asian market, and what’s encouraging is its willingness to partner with local creators from the region. As Erika North, Netflix’s international original programming director puts it on a Hollywood Reporter article, “there is a huge concentration of film talent in Southeast Asia…we’re really thinking about the way we can engage with producers and content creators across the spectrum.” This team-up gives creators a golden opportunity to make their work available worldwide at the click of a button. That potentially means new fans, international media coverage, and better changes of getting their future project off the ground.
4. It’s not afraid of taking influences from the West
From Korean historical dramas to Tim Burton’s darkly whimsical aesthetic, you can catch narrative, visual and costuming influences from fantasy’s greatest hits all over this trailer, starting from the familiar premise of the young girl entering a sinister world to complete a mission and save her family. These influences make sense: after all, many of these budding filmmakers grow up watching tales from Middle Earth, Hogwarts and Westeros. When it comes to assimilating Western influences and deconstructing them anew, Asia’s creators are the pros.
5. But it also shows why Southeast Asia is the true home of magical tales
After all, there’s no shortage of traditional customs, beliefs and anecdotal tales passed around between late-night shift workers in countries like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia – many of which would make a seriously crackling tale. And with locations like Perak, Penang and Johor featuring heavily in this sweeping saga, the series is poised to bring these beautiful, underappreciated locales into new, enchanting light.
Are you interested to watch the show? What do you think of the trailer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Cover image by Hype