A Ghostly Feminine Melancholy: Representing Decay and Experiencing Loss in Thai Horror Films
By analysing significant Thai horror films from 1999—the year Nonzee Nimitbut’s emblematic Nang Nak was released—to 2010, this essay focuses on the presence and representation of female ghosts and undead spirits from traditional Thai myths in contemporary Thai cinema. More precisely, this essay highlights traditional female characters as mediators between horror and love, and fear and mourning, instead of as traditionally frightening entities. This distinction was made possible after the Thai “New Wave.” As ancestral mirror of inner fears and meaningful images reflecting societal concerns, female spirits in contemporary Thai cinema become the emblem of a more complex “monstrous femininity,” merging fear with melancholy, and an irreparable sense of loss with reflections on the ephemeral.
Indonesian exploitation films emerged from a particular political economy of the New Order and its film industry. From Primitif (1979) to Without Mercy (Outraged Fugitive) (1995), about 50 of these exploitation films were produced. Seen within the dominant paradigm of the time, these films were exploitative and contributed nothing to national development or national culture. However, the producers and filmmakers behind these films pioneered new transnational connections as they tried to tap into global film markets and networks.
This article explores the historical and structural background to the Indonesian exploitation films, and the aspirations behind their production. By tapping into global film markets, and following genre trends, Indonesian producers hoped to emulate the success of exploitation films globally. By the mid-1990, just as the domestic film market collapsed and the arrival of television, Indonesian film producers had put Indonesia on the map of global cinema. Today Indonesian films of the period have begun to take on cult status as fans and others rediscover this colourful cinematic past.
The Earth is Getting Hotter: Urban Inferno and Outsider Women’s Collectives in Bumi Makin Panas
Ali Shahab’s controversial 1973 film Bumi Makin Panas (The Earth is Getting Hotter) paints a scalding portrait of rapid urbanization and capitalization during Indonesia’s early New Order years. Jakarta, the capital city, if not quite hell, is closer to a Marxian state of truth in which ideology – for Marx a pervasive, camera obscura-like “inversion” of the actual state of affairs under capitalism – appears to have suddenly capsized; set in a seething urban reality of open hypocrisy, exploitation, and violence, the film functions as material nightmare to the vapid moralist-humanist dreams produced and sold by the state and its agents. Yet while Marx sought to ground his critique in “real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process” (1947: 47), Shahab, who also wrote Bumi Makin Panas, perceived a different locus of truth: the brothel and its female laborers. As a magnet for those perhaps most thoroughly (and quickly) dispossessed by Indonesia’s rapid shift to the right following the rise of Suharto seven years earlier – poor, formally uneducated women – Shahab sees in the brothel a central node of the morally bankrupt urban economy. Yet therein lies its ostensibly utopian potential as a collective space in which women simultaneously cater to, and learn to understand, exploit and shield themselves from, the unbridled “male” desire (pervading both men and women in positions of power) that is burning through city and nation.
This paper will focus on Shahab’s fascinating, if at times problematic, formulation of the brothel as an ideology-canceling lens of populist political critique. Also a “pulp” novelist of some renown, Shahab brought an obtuse, cult film-esque bricolage of sights, sounds and styles to the screen. Despite the uneven, and occasionally substandard, aesthetic veneer this produced, Shahab and his collaborators succeeded in imbuing the space of the urban bordello with a sharp, absurdist-realist edge. The effect is to shred the veil of prurient romanticism otherwise produced by images of besotted, powerful men surrounded with willing, scantily-clad young women. In many ways, Bumi Makin Panas traffics in what Laura Mulvey famously termed women’s “to-be-looked-at-ness” on-screen. Yet it simultaneously attacks and revokes the visual pleasure it sells. My analysis will focus in particular on the connections made by the film between the spheres of prostitution, bohemian artists seeking authenticity in pleasurable proximity to “the masses,” and the wealthy aristocrats and business elites whose patronage of both produces the always already compromised economic ground on which they meet. In this sense, the film reflects on the strong historical connections between the birth of Indonesian national cinema and the post-independence gathering of artists, writers, filmmakers and affluent patrons in Senen, an area of Jakarta featuring a famous movie house, a traditional theater, cheap food and coffee, and rows of quasi-legal brothels.