Ghosts are in the air… this month

I never used to know (or care) when the Hungry Ghost Month came unless someone specifically bugged me about it.

“Be careful when you go home tonight, there are ghosts wandering about.”

“Be careful in the toilet, don’t talk to anyone in there in case they’re a… you know…”

“Don’t look now, but I think there’s someone behind you…”

I hate you people. Go scare someone else.

I’d been scared to death of ghosts since watching The Ring in 1999, refusing thereafter to watch another horror film or listen to anymore ghost stories.

But the good news is that I kind of lost this irrational fear after (ironically) starring in a horror short film last year.

My director Jon made me watch several Japanese and Korean horror films for research and I survived those and the filming. I felt reborn after that. I could watch horror films again!

Otherwise, I would not have attended the screening of A Month of Hungry Ghosts last night.

I’m really glad I did now. The screening was part of the Golden Village Blog Aloud series, in which audiences get to interact with film directors and ask them questions about the film.

Of course, I only found out during the show that A Month of Hungry Ghosts isn’t exactly a horror film. It’s a documentary of the rituals and lives of very interesting individuals for whom the seventh lunar month is particularly significant.

There’s a touching account of a woman who has lost both parents and a son, so she religiously burns offerings for them every year.

There’s a young and pretty getai singer who’s been performing for spirits during the seventh month since she was six, whose parents have turned her getai singing career into a family business.

There’s an old wayang (Chinese opera) matron who relates anecdotes of her profession and her encounters with spirits during the seventh month.

The film crew also followed SPI investigators into sinister discoveries.

In the 99-minute documentary, you will be touched by the tales of these people and you will develop a new respect for this age-old Chinese tradition which you’ve always conveniently brushed off as a silly and annoying superstition.

One tale which particularly haunted me was of this woman who unknowingly placed her infant son on a table used to offer food to spirits duing the ghost month.

The next day, the baby’s body turned black and he died. Apparently, the spirits thought that her son was a sacrifice. Actual documented photos of this are shown in the film.

I cannot recommend this film enough.

I didn’t find it scary. Some parts are maybe kind of eerie, but I would use the words interesting, shocking, touching, delightful and inspiring to describe the film.

I was at first disappointed because I was expecting to be scared, since we were watching it on the first day of the Hungry Ghost Month, the day when the gates of hell are opened and all manner of spirits are allowed to roam our land among us uncontested.

But then, I was quickly drawn into the colourful narratives which revealed a wealth of information and surprises that my mind hungrily feasted on.

The Goonfather was simliary impressed and fixated on the film, although that didn’t stop him from trying to scare me halfway through.

There was a scene in which wayang and getai professionals explain why they always leave the front-row seats empty during performances.

The seats are for the “good brothers”, they say earnestly.

Apparently, if the seats aren’t kept empty, things always go awry during the performance.

At this point of time, the Goonfather leaned over to whisper to me, “The seats in the front row are empty. Got ‘good brothers’ watching the movie with us.”

I peered over at the front-row seats and shot back, “No lah! There’s one guy sitting on the leftmost seat in the first row.”

“Uh oh, I think got something sitting on him.”

Idiot.

At the end of the film, though, when director Tony Kern and producer Genevieve Woo came in to the theatre to take questions from the audience, they confirmed that they had indeed deliberately left the front row empty for the “good brothers”.

I wonder who’s the brave guy who sat on the corner seat.

The director also shared with us his encounter during a jungle excursion for a spirit-invitation ritual, where he almost got possesed by spirits. You can read about it in this TODAY report.

A Month of Hungry Ghosts doesn’t have the most polished cinematography and editing which you’d expect of a, say, Discovery Channel documentary, and the film starts off a bit sluggish as it establishes Singapore as a “world-class centre of business and culture” (as cited by the wiki page for this film).

Foreigners might find this of interest, but Singaporeans will probably be wondering when the scary stuff is going to happen.

But once the film is done with the expounding, you get taken on a surprise ride from which you won’t return the same.

A Month of Hungry Ghosts premieres at Golden Village on August 7.

Also, check out the Golden Village website to find out more about the Blog Aloud series. Next up is Money No Enough 2 from August 5 to 7. Watch the film before the official premiere and meet director Jack Neo to find out more about the making of his movie.

Today is the second day of the Hungry Ghost Month. There are 28 more days to go. Be mindful.