Truth is always stranger than fiction and Remi M Sali’s Konpaku is thrilling in its bid to get you frighteningly close to the social reality of being Malay in Singapore. Not only that, Konpaku refuses the established genre of the Malay pontianak (female vampire) films that have permeated our horrified dreams since 1957. Instead, the film brings you to millennial Singapore where history isn’t baggage but only a state-sponsored enterprise. Here, young Malays enter the global village and fall in love. And it’s just your luck if you end up with a foreign ghost.
Haqim (played by Junaidi M Sali) loses his sweetheart to his best friend but quickly falls in love again with the sensual and mysterious Japanese vamp, Midori (played by Lizzie V). To him, Midori is his perfect companion, his soulmate, hence the film’s title which means soul in Japanese. But this attractive vamp also happens to be a Japanese succubus. Midori provides Haqim with a much-needed respite from his heartache, rekindling his faith in love. He grows increasingly dependent on her while becoming distant from everyone else, including his beloved mother. But Midori wants his complete devotion, and is willing to eliminate any interference. Their growing passion takes on a sinister twist, when strange incidents befall those close to Haqim.
Says Remi M Sali: “We took a huge leap of faith to make a movie with such sexually-suggestive content and coarse language, mindful of potential backlash from our largely conservative Malay-Muslim community. While Konpaku has a supernatural element in its story, its main focus is about being Malay in Singapore, its implications and concerns. I consciously referred to some old Malay beliefs/superstitions in the movie. For example, the significance of feet: Haqim’s mum nags when she sees him wearing his shoes inside the house. This actually stems from the belief that he might unintentionally bring something spiritually undesirable home. Spirits are believed to find entry through a person’s feet, which is why Haqim’s mum insists that he washes his feet instead of his shoes when she senses something amiss in one scene. Midori is also shown to ‘enter’ Haqim’s body through his feet, and the Ustaz (religious teacher) tries forcing her to leave by the same way during the exorcism.
“In mid-2012, my family and I participated in an exorcism ritual for a close relative. Apparently, he was ‘attached’ to a supernatural entity that progressively affected him physically and spiritually. I was sceptical of course. I’ve watched countless English and regional horror movies with exorcism scenes, but always regarded them as pure fiction (even movies that claim to be inspired from actual events). And not being religiously inclined, I wasn’t enthusiastic to be involved in an Islamic exorcism. Konpaku was inspired from my journey of making sense with what I witnessed that night.”
The film is a rare example of modern Singapore Malay cinema in two other ways. One is the liberal use of everyday spoken Malay, which is considered coarse and uncouth. Perhaps for this and the raunchy scenes, the censors rated Konpaku NC16 (No Children under 16). The other is the obsessive (and honestly quite hilarious) dialogue when Haqim keeps trying to persuade Midori to convert to Islam to sanction their marriage. To get married, all Midori needs to do is embrace Islam by pretence, not by practice. Even when Haqim is delirious, he never loses sight that she must convert. This obsessive emphasis anchors the film in the ordinary world of Singapore Malays. (Oh well, anything for a succulent Japanese succubus I suppose.)