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A MONTH OF HUNGRY GHOSTS (Gui Jie) (Singapore)

  Publicity Stills of
"A Month of Hungry Ghosts"
(Courtesy of GV)

In English/Dialect with English & Chinese Subtitles
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".

Movie Review:

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.

The 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.

With 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!”

Sadly, this friend is somewhat correct in that statement.

A 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.

Thankfully, 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.

Alas, 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.

Oh, 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.

Movie Rating:

(An average documentary that does not shed new light on the Hungry Ghosts Festival, a topic of great potential)

Review by John Li


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