The Exotic in Southeast Asian Cinema

Southeast Asian horror films have their unique and distinctive charm. In highlighting the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, this research project traces the origin of this genre while relating it to social development and cultural tradition of the individual countries.


Horror films in the Philippines, for example, were deeply influenced by the low-budget commercial motion pictures from the United States but the cultural legacy of this archipelago remains infinitely rich. For example, Aswang, originally an aggregate term for a multitude of supernatural creatures originating from folklore, assumed and developed its constantly changing forms in popular cinema and TV drama. Like other countries after the Second World War, Thailand witnessed the resurging use of 16 mm films in the industry and works produced in that period exhibited the popular belief in supernatural power. Inspired by popular traditions and incidents of homicide, Thai filmmakers have produced many iconic characters including Mae Nak Phra Khanong,  Si Ouey, and Nualchawee Petchrung that have sweeping admiration from cinephiles around the world. When it comes to Indonesia, exploitation films dominated this country during the New Order Regime, as a result of the official policies on the film industry. The industry has influenced society greatly and even spawned several popular culture icons, such as Jaka Sembung, the defiant warrior resisting the Dutch colonialism in the 19th century. Though largely fictional, the adventures of these film characters are entwined with national memories of Dutch colonialism and Japanese invasion.


In Taiwan, Southeast Asian horror films still await public accolades and academic interests and so this research project gives a histo-cultural reading of dark subject matters by introducing research in folk belief, urban myths, and pop culture.

Tan Tang-Mo

Tan Tang-Mo is a prolific writer and film critic in Taiwan. He has been working on a wide range of fields in cinema, including horror films, comedies, and the general history of Taiwan cinema. He has also translated Moviemakers' Master Class, Trainspotting, and Room to Dream.