"A Month of Hungry Ghosts"
(Courtesy of GV)
In English/Dialect with English & Chinese Subtitles
Genre: Documentary Director: Tony Kern RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins Released By: GV Rating: PG Official Website:www.hungryghostsmovie.com
Opening Day: 7 August 2008
Every year, during the 7th lunar month, it is believed that
the "gates of Hell" are opened and all the souls
are set free to wander the earth. Many spirits roam around
trying to fulfill their past needs, wants and desires. These
are the "hungry ghosts". This phenomenon affects
personal lives, the society and the entire economy. The people
respond as if the dead truly walk amongst them. Our story
explores how and why a whole nation, world-class and cosmopolitan,
is utterly enthralled by "A Month of Hungry Ghosts".
As this review is being typed out on a humble personal computer
residing in a humble HDB flat somewhere in central Singapore,
the gates of hell have officially opened. And in case there
are any non Singaporean visitors reading this, we just wanted
to announce the arrival of the Hungry Ghosts Festival, an
annual month long event that takes place during the seventh
lunar month. It is the interesting rituals and festivities
that occur during this month that form the basis of this documentary.
98 minute picture was shot three years ago, and the filmmakers
had scoured the island for different happenings and events
during the Hungry Ghosts Festival. Voices representing different
points of view are featured, and the interviewees range from
Taoist masters, members from the Singapore Paranormal Investigators
(SPI), firm believers of the festival, a “getai”
performer and even well know personalities like filmmaker
Kelvin Tong, producer Daniel Yun and author Dr. KK Seet.
such an interesting lineup of interviewees, you’d expect
a colorful array of viewpoints about this unique Chinese festival
that you may already be somewhat familiar with. But as a friend
(who promptly but nicely rejected my invitation to watch this
documentary) commented: “How groundbreaking can this
production be? I can already picture it without watching it!”
this friend is somewhat correct in that statement.
large portion of this documentary is devoted to things that
you may already know – the origins of the festival,
the rituals and festivities that throng the streets during
the period, the offerings made for the wandering spirits (including
a swanky looking cardboard made computer and a nice residence
that beats this reviewer’s humble personal computer
and HDB flat hands down). Visuals of the SPI folks connecting
wires and gadgets to detect the spirits and footages shot
in the night showcasing scary eyeballs are also nothing new
to the seasoned television viewer.
towards the last third of the movie, interesting interviewees
begin springing up. Watch out for a young “getai”
singer who speaks as attractively as she looks. She tells
you how her whole family supports her tours around different
“getais”. Then figures like Tong, Yun and Seet
come in to talk animatedly about how the festival brings about
an interesting culture clash in cosmopolitan Singapore. There
is also a woman who affectingly talks about her dead son whom
she faithfully visits every Hungry Ghost Festival. These are
the human touches make the documentary work.
the picture decides to conclude on an academic note, talking
about serious issues and themes which may not connect with
the kitschy and campy festival. This makes the production
look like an insincere piece of work aimed at attracting foreign
crowds who will then spurn serious discussion issues the moment
they walk out of the theatre.
while we are at it, we cannot forget the computer generated
Gates of Hell which are nicely done. But we can be sure that
the scene will draw a giggle or two the moment the Horse and
Ox guards spout smoke from their nostrils.
(An average documentary that does not shed new light
on the Hungry Ghosts Festival, a topic of great potential)