Film Review: ‘Konpaku’ Is a Bold and Tenacious Indie Horror Film Set at an Intriguing Cultural Cross Junction5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Inspired by actual events, Konpaku tells the story of forbidden love between a Malay-Muslim man and a sensual Japanese succubus.
Director: Remi M. Sali
Cast: Junaidi M. Sali, Lizzie V, Kamariah Osman, Fir Rahman, Najib Aziz, Haizad Imram
Language: Malay, English, Japanese
Runtime: 109 minutes
From the team behind local film Not My Mother’s Baking (2020), which made its world premiere at last year’s Singapore International Film Festival, comes their 2019 indie film Konpaku. The 2020 comedy was praised as an unapologetic effort in normalising interreligious and intercultural relationships. In many ways, Konpaku goes further in its challenge of similarly sensitive themes and topics as a Malay-centric local film. While it is a sharp tonal contrast to Not My Mother’s Baking, director Remi M. Sali’s eye for fascinating stories found amidst intercultural and interreligious dialogue remains ever apparent even while tackling the horror genre.
Mythologies and cultures intertwine to create a fascinating tapestry. A racy plot further pushes the boundaries of a story aimed at bringing out a genuine portrayal of a Malay man losing his religion. Konpaku is undoubtedly rough around the edges with its execution but a sense of tenacity emerges with its attention to folklore and its workarounds to circumvent its modest budget.
Inspired by real events, the film follows Haqim (Junaidi M. Sali), an awkward 30-year old searching for a new job. A night out with his friends and a dare leads him to cross paths with Midori (Lizzie V), a mysterious woman Haqim almost immediately falls for. A few awkward conversations later and things starts getting physical and spiritual between them — but far from a romantic way. Unfortunately for Haqim, Midori turns out to be a Japanese succubus, determined to ruin his life and those around him.
Konpaku presents a few insightful metaphors to detail how both the Malay and Japanese worlds have clashed at this cultural cross junction. For example, Midori’s name translates to green, a colour significant in Islam. Similarly, how the demon possesses Haqim through his feet eerily conflicts with the Malay saying of “Syurga di bawah tapak kaki ibu”, which means “Heaven lies at the feet of your mother”.
Drawing the supernatural world uncomfortably close to home is the film’s dialogue. More than just with the characters’ healthy dose of vulgarities, the film’s lead Haqim also offers a less-than-flattering yet relatable portrayal of life as a Malay-Muslim in today’s Singapore. As bizarre as it might sound, his courtship of Midori does bring up sensitive topics relating to interracial and interreligious relationships. He freely admits to her that he might not be a pious Muslim yet he still finds it necessary for her to convert if they were to be married because of familial and societal pressure.
His difficult position is exacerbated by the succubus’ seductions, eventually leading Haqim to spiritual despair. This easily sensationalised plot point is largely subdued, likely with the avoidance of censorship and community backlash in mind, but overall kept in firm control. However, limitations aside, how Haqim’s internal struggle is portrayed still felt wanting.
It definitely could be easy to chalk up Midori’s success to lust but how her puzzling efforts at seduction didn’t ring any alarms still felt odd. Outside of physical efforts, Midori’s other main modus operandi seems to be asking over phone calls if Haqim is naked. Their relationship — largely detailed through these calls — had little spark outside of clear lust. Being provocative is out of the question, but perhaps there are still missed opportunities for drama and for explorations on why Haqim is so easily smitten by Midori.
The main tension and horror Midori brings to Konpaku is with how she haunts and destroys the lives of both Haqim and those around him. The film’s creeping soundtrack does a solid job in building a tense atmosphere, although there is a tendency to overreach. One particular highlight is the use of practical effects, preventing the supernatural tale from completely drifting off into fantasy. On the other hand, the camera work falls short on its part, presenting shots that definitely detail the ongoing action but lack emotive direction.
Narrative wise, the horror mainly works when it starts to affect Haqim’s mother, played by Kamariah Osman, due to the attention in fleshing out their relationship. In contrast, Midori’s actions are half as effective when the terror spills over to his circle of friends — there are dramatic tensions between Haqim and his buddies but they feel disconnected from the film’s story. Most of the script’s attention would be placed on Haqim, with Junaidi M. Sali putting on an engaging performance charting his character’s descent from one with well-meaning intentions to a victim helplessly possessed by a demon.
Konpaku is a staunch effort, telling a horror story that dares to tackle sensitive themes. It will be a bumpy ride, largely due to the film’s humble budget and plot points that waver on for a tad too long. What remains reliable throughout Konpaku is the team’s heart to realise a horror film which pays tribute to our unique cultural melting pot, as well as their courage to walk the delicate tightrope in our conservative society.
The indie horror film is now showing in Filmgarde Cineplexes islandwide. Grab your tickets now at https://bit.ly/KonpakuFilmgarde.