The Jakarta Post
Director Joko Anwar presents a different side of an Indonesian ghost in HBO Asia’s Folklore: A Mother’s Love. Scheduled to be premiered on Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. local time, it can be watched on HBO On Demand or via streaming on HBO GO for free an hour after the premiere.
Penned by Joko himself, A Mother’s Love follows the life of Murni (Marrisa Anita), who works as a cleaning woman at an upscale house in Jakarta. Murni lives a modest life with her son Jodi (Muzakki Ramdhan), who she cannot afford to send to school. The mother and son are inseparable.
One day Murni is forced to leave her home as she is six months behind in the rent, and she decides to stay in the house of her employer. However, one night she discovers mysterious children in the house’s attic and her life changes forever.
Read also: Joko Anwar returns with 'Folklore'
Jodi, played by Muzakki Ramdhan, (left) and Murni (Marissa Anita) in one of the scenes in 'Folkore: A Mother's Love'. (HBO Asia/File)
Joko uses the Indonesian ghost wewe gombel in this one-hour film. Often described as extremely tall with long breasts and nails, wewe gombel is believed to be a female spirit who is desperate to be a mother. She preys upon children who are mistreated by their parents and then kidnaps them to treat them as her own. The children often eventually die of malnutrition.
Joko chose wewe gombel for the character. “She’s a spirit who died while yearning for a child – she has layers of emotion that can be explored,” Joko said at a press conference on Sept. 14 at Grand Hyatt Jakarta.
“It can also be made into something that is more emotional," he said.
Marissa Anita plays a mother who discovers mysterious children in the attic of a house. (HBO Asia/File)
Prior to shooting, Joko did research on beliefs about the ghost. “Some sources say she was a married woman who could not bear a child when she was alive, and after her husband cheated on her she committed suicide,” Joko said. “Her large breasts are manifestations of her yearning for a child.”
Filming took only eight days in Jakarta and Joko described it as emotional. “One of my crew members cried when shooting one of the scenes. That wouldn’t have happened if the scene wasn’t believable and natural,” said Joko.
Marissa Anita arranged activities to bond with her on-screen son, Muzakki Ramdhan. “We traveled together with Joko walking behind us and recording us on his phone camera. Our interaction as mother and son was built from that,” Marissa said. “He also kept calling me bu [mother], while I called him ‘Jodi’ even when the camera was off.”
Joko Anwar speaks at a press conference on Sept. 14 at the Grand Hyatt in Central Jakarta. (JP/Ni Nyoman Wira)
Through this film, Joko wants the audience to contemplate their way of life. “It’s a wake-up call for parents who don’t pay enough attention to their children,” he said. “Family is the smallest unit in society and it’s also the most crucial to determine whether our society is healthy or not.”
A Mother’s Love is part of Folklore, HBO Asia’s first horror anthology that consists of six episodes by six directors in Asia. The other five episodes are Tatami (Japan), Nobody (Singapore), Pob (Thailand), Toyol (Malaysia) and Mongdal (South Korea). The anthology's creator, director Eric Khoo, is said to have given Joko the freedom to express himself in A Mother's Love.
Both A Mother’s Love and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Pob had their world premiere at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This is the first time for Asian TV series to be officially screened at the festival’s Primetime program since its debut in 2015. (mut)