Top image: HBO GO
This review of Folklore Season 2 covers the first two episodes and may contain spoilers.
By themselves, ghosts aren’t all that scary. Sure, ghosts are frightening when they jump out at you or when they’re shimmying up your leg under your blanket, but anything is frightening when it jumps out at you or shimmies up your leg unseen. But pair ghosts with the purest of emotions, love, and it strikes a little too close to the heart—which is what happens in the first two episodes of Asian horror anthology, Folklore, now on its second season.
The new season of Folklore, which airs every Sunday, 10pm on HBO (StarHub Ch 601; Singtel Ch 420) opens with The Rope, a Taiwanese tale of two newlyweds who run afoul of a funeral procession for a suicide victim. The second episode, The Day The Wind Blew, centres around a Japanese schoolgirl who meets her idol just as strange things begin to happen to her. The new season comprises six episodes, with four other tales from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Headed by none other than showrunner Eric Khoo, Folklore focuses on the commonality among Asian countries—the acknowledgement and fear of the supernatural world—as it weaves tales from different cultures. But what it excels in is showing the rituals and beliefs of different countries. No matter where you go, there is always a healthy respect for the world unseen, through offerings, tributes, and small shrines set up for them. And it’s when the supernatural is disrespected or disregarded, that trouble arises.
Take The Rope, for example. The trouble begins when the bride, Ming-Yin (Vivian Sung), stumbles into a funeral procession—a deeply inauspicious occurrence in any country, let alone an Asian one. She’s later informed that the procession is actually a purification ritual for a suicide victim—and explicitly instructed by the ceremonial master to follow the procession lest she be cursed. Predictably, she ignores the warning, setting off the series of supernatural events that plague her and her new husband, Shawn (Wu Kang-Ren). But had she just listened to instructions, she would presumably not have gotten cursed. She could have had a blissful married life and all would have been well.
It’s the little things that add up and create the unsettling tension in the first episode. Their matrimonial home, meant to be a haven for them to build their family, starts to exhibit small oddities here and there. In isolation, they could easily be explained away as everyday accidents that many viewers have certainly experienced before like a clogged drain here or a missing trinket turning up there. But this is a horror movie, so you know these incidents have a deeper and more terrifying meaning to them. And the lingering thought you have is: wait, a similar incident happened to me the other day. Could it mean that…?
Along the way, there are the usual jump scares and a climactic confrontation when they realise that the threat is much closer to home than they realise. The episode concludes in a way that’s reminiscent of Shutter, leaving room for a possible follow-up to this. But what is more tragic is how the haunting has changed the dynamic between Ming-Yin and Shawn, a stark contrast from their sunny optimism at the beginning of the episode.
The second episode, The Day The Wind Blew, scares with its relatability. In this era of K-pop, K-dramas, and whatever else with a K prefix tacked on, who doesn’t know of a fan who obsesses over a plastic surgery-enhanced idol, whether or not said idol has talent or not? Thankfully, this episode centres on Japanese singer Ken (Win Morisaki) who has a literal fangirl, Mika (Haori Takahashi) who likes him for his musical talent, rather than his looks.
It’s actually a love story between the two and a sweet one at that. You also learn that Mika’s adoration for Ken is pure, stemming from incidents that happened in her childhood. But like in The Rope, small oddities begin to occur. Mika starts finding minor wounds on her body, cuts that could be explained away by unnoticed moments of carelessness. Which person hasn’t found random cuts or bruises while taking a shower, small injuries that you don’t remember happening?
Of course, this is also when the horror begins. Like the first episode, the hauntings are the consequence of not doing what we’re meant to do when it comes to a person’s passing, although this happens in a very different context. Ultimately, it ends and begins in the same place—love—leaving us with a bittersweet tale of romance amidst a setting of horror.
Folklore’s second season opens with cautionary tales that depict the consequences of not following supernatural rituals and beliefs. Coupled with its relatability and themes of love, the episodes are both frightening and poignant. In the end, you have to ask yourself—is it worth ignoring the beliefs of the past when there might be a truly huge price to pay?
Folklore Season 2
Directors: Shih-Han Liao (Ep 1), Seiko Matsuda (Ep 2), Sittisiri Mongkolsiri (Ep 3), Erik Matti (Ep 4), Billy Christian (Ep 5), and Nicole Midori Woodford (Ep 6).
Cast: Vivian Sung (Ming-Yin), Wu Kang-Ren (Shawn), Win Moriasaki (Ken), and Haori Takahashi (Mika).
Running Time: 6 episodes of 50-60 minutes
Genre: Horror, Drama
Folklore airs every Sunday, 10pm on HBO (StarHub Ch 601; Singtel Ch 420) starting on 14 November. Episodes are also available on HBO GO.