Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vamp or Not? Pocong Vs Kuntilanak

This 2008 movie, directed by David Purnomo and hailing from Indonesia was a particularly difficult movie to watch as the subtitles on the VCD I looked at where some of the worst, most literal subtitles I have ever had the misfortune to struggle through. Worst, because of the endless spelling mistakes and variants that made trying to grind through the actual meaning of the literal translations even more of a chore.

Be that as it may, we are looking at this in a vamp or not way and you can see that this is a ‘versus’ film. The actual creature that put the film on my radar was the kuntilanak. There isn’t much out there regarding the kuntilanak, but if you look at the Wikipedia entry for pontianak we read “The Pontianak, Kuntilanak, Matianak or "Boentianak" (as known in Indonesia, sometimes shortened to just kunti) is a type of vampire in Malay folklore, similar to the Langsuir. Pontianak are women who died during childbirth and became undead, seeking revenge and terrorizing villages.” The article does not mention the kuntilanak further, concentrating on the pontianak and langsuir.

This film starts with a man running through the forests in fear. He enters his home, a woman lies (dead) on the bed. He hides in a closet but suddenly the kuntilanak is at the window. We see him fall from the closet dying, a child is under the bed and he warns the child to not unlace his pocong. Now the pocong suit is a shroud that Indonesian Muslims use to cover the body of the dead person. In common with many religious lore, it is believed that the soul of the person will remain on Earth for 40 days following the death. If the ties of the pocong suit are not released after the 40 days the soul remains trapped in the body causing the body to jump from the grave. These are a type of physical ghost and they hop as the shroud ties their feet.

Cut to modern day and we have three girls, apologies in advance if the names are wrong this was due to poor subtitles, but I think they were Bi, Noo and Vonny. Vonny is descended from the Dutch colonial Von Klingen family. Noo has a boyfriend Sa, who in turn is friends with the tattooist Big and his boss Marcel Soekotjo. There is an attraction between Marcel and Vonny. However neither is aware of their family history.

It seems that the man, at the beginning, was Raden Soekotjo. He was in love with Nyi Soroh but it was decided that she should marry into the Von Klingens. They had a kuntilanak as a guardian, one would take responsibility for it. The kuntilanak would then defend the family, attacking those who would slight it. Obviously the kuntilanak killed Raden who gave orders for the pocong shroud to remain unlaced and thus transform him into the pocong.

The families have thus waged a supernatural war through the generations. It is time for Vonny to take responsibility for the kuntilanak. Sa has a Jelangkung – a sort of fetish with which to call ghosts – that he plays around with but that succeeds in drawing the pocong to them. Both the kuntilanak and the pocong seem to be able to possess the youth they are associated with and the shroud of Soekotjo cannot be unlaced whilst the ghost controls Marcel or it will kill the boy. Sadly, all I could think of when I saw the pocong was Frank from Donny Darko, but there you go.

Until Vonny agrees to take control of the kuntilanak and learns how to control it, that creature will also be out of control. It looked rather good, incredibly tall with a flow of hair and a look that passed to Vonny and her mother (as the previous owner, for want of a better word) when it took control of them. The problem was it didn’t really do anything that vampiric – from our point of view. There was an attack, for instance, that left a petrified corpse (or so it seemed as we only saw a hand poking from a sheet.)

Given that the kuntilanak is a type of vampire, traditionally, this film is certainly of genre interest. It could do with proper subtitling being done as it is a chore to watch and, I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of the 'versus genre' that has emerged as most fall a little flat (some more than a little). The background to this was really interesting but the run of the film was standard teen involved horror, the deaths were off screen and the kuntilanak didn’t do anything too vampiric in nature.

The imdb page is here.


CrabStiX said...

Can't wait until your son asks you what a "Kuntilanak" is? :-))

Taliesin_ttlg said...

;) lol

vikassinghania said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Taliesin_ttlg said...

vikassinghania left a comment for a personalised vsampire romance novel company...

dude... if you want to advertise ask permission - hence it has gone

CC-1138 said...

even this kuntilanak is far from your vampiric creature definition but you still made review about some movie about it and even a pocong movie which dont have any resemblance with vampire:D...that's interesting because there is western people who have curiousity about ghost legend from my country...well..if you want more woman ghost theme movies then you should search keyword pengabdi setan (old/new version) or all movies that has been starred by "suzanna" (horror queen of indonesia)...but like you expected that kuntilanak was not vampire at all and maybe it's not related with ur blog's up to you to make reviews for all these movies i suggested before but i guaranted that were best movies we have in my country...good night

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi CC-1138, you're absolutely right. The Pocong wouldn't fit into a strict definition but the Pocong movie I have reviewed has a Chinese Hopping Vampire/Kyonsi/Jiangshi in it.

As for the Kuntilanak, whilst the folklore might be very different, some of the tropes used in western media vampire films do appear in some of the kuntilanak films (whether by design or accident I don't know).This particular article is one that simply looks at would we embrace the film in the wider genre as having vampire like qualities.

I also tend to look at any film where the creature within it is classed into the "vampire umbrella" by various writers - if only to test their assertions.

I greatly appreciate the suggestions. I was aware of Suzanna and her body of work and will certainly look out for Pengabdi Setan.

Many thanks for stopping by.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

CC-1138, I should also mention that I did look at the original version of Pengabdi Setan here:

CC-1138 said...

ah were already made one review about old version of "pengabdi setan" or satan slave..then you should make review about newer or reboot version of it i have never seen it before because you know many horror movie there sometimes mixed with porn or even not creepy at all and make you horny...but many people said that this is best horror movie so far...well ,looks like you already familiar with all my suggestion...i dont have any suggestion for you because its so diffuclt to find high quality horror movie here...thank you for your attention