Singapore and Malaysia cinema's love affair with pontianaks

Marcus Goh
Contributor
Pontianak. (Havas)

There's no doubting the amount of love that Singapore and Malaysia have for the pontianak. Pontianak films in the region have a long history – and now, Singaporean and Malaysian co-directors Glen Goei and Gavin Yap have brought to the silver screen the first Singapore-produced pontianak movie in 18 years, Revenge of the Pontianak.

The pontianak is said to arise when a woman dies while pregnant or in childbirth, as an undead perversion of the natural process of creating life. Pontianaks are said to dwell in banana trees and usually take on the form of a beautiful, long-haired woman in a flowing white dress. Despite her beguiling appearance, the vampiric creature will rip apart your entrails with long and sharp nails. They hunt by tracking the scent of laundry hung in the open, which is why you should not leave your clothes to dry overnight.

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Pontianaks have fascinated Singaporeans and Malaysians so much that they've become the quintessential supernatural horror, blending tragedy and fear with an iconic visage. Perhaps that's why they have been the subject of numerous films, because everyone loves a good pontianak story. Here's a comprehensive list of pontianak movies that have arisen over the years in both countries.

1. Pontianak (1957)

Pontianak (1957) (IMDB)

At the stroke of midnight on April 27, 1957, the horror classic Pontianak (1957) premiered – showing that even in the 1950s, movie premieres had a flair for the dramatic. It coincided with the Hari Raya Puasa celebrations for that year and was only slated to be screened for two weeks. But it was such an overwhelming success, partly due to the fact that it was released in both Malay and Chinese versions, that it continued its run for two months.

It was lauded for its realistic make-up and practical effects at the time, although it did restrict lead actress Mario Menado's expressions. There was also humour in this horror movie, perhaps to cater to a wider audience.

2. Dendam Pontianak (Revenge of the Pontianak) (1957)

After the success of Pontianak, Balakrishna Narayana Rao (B. N. Rao) directed and released a sequel to his horror film – Dendam Pontianak. It came out in the same year as Pontianak, and Menado reprised her role in this sequel.

3. Sumpah Pontianak (Curse of the Pontianak) (1958)

Sumpah Pontianak (1958) (IMDB)
Pontianak Gua Musang (1957) (IMDB)

4. Anak Pontianak (Son of Pontianak) (1958)

Not to be outdone, Shaw Brothers started production on their own series of pontianak films. Anak Pontianak was, perhaps, inspired by such films as Son of Kong (1933), Son of Frankenstein (1938), and Son of Dracula (1943). Directed by Ramon Estella, the movie spawned two sequels (although they were not released in quick succession the way the Cathay-Keri Pontianak films were).

5. Pontianak Kembali (The Pontianak Returns) (1963)

Five year later, Estella's pontianak returned in the sequel to Anak Pontianak.

6. Pontianak Gua Musang (The Pontianak of the Cave) (1964)

Pontianak Gua Musang was B. N. Rao's last Singapore-based pontianak movie — but it would hardly be the last pontianak movie in Singapore (as subsequent years would show). The film revolved around a spurned lover and an orphaned child.

7. Pusaka Pontianak (The Pontianak Legacy) (1965)

Pusaka Pontianak was Estella's third instalment in his series of pontianak movies, following Anak Pontianak and Pontianak Kembali.

8. Pontianak (1975)

Pontianak (1975) (IMDB)

Another film titled Pontianak came out in 1975, directed by Roger Stutton.

9. Return to Pontianak (2001)

Return to Pontianak (2001) (IMDB)

Return to Pontianak was a Singapore-made film by Djinn, also known as Ong Lay Jinn. It debuted in a number of film festivals, such as the Singapore Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and Bangkok Film Festival.

10. Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam (Pontianak: Scent of the Tuber Rose I) (2004)

Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam (2004) (IMDB)

In 2004, Shuhaimi Baba directed Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam I, which was a box office success in Malaysia. It followed a vengeful pontianak, Meriam (Maya Karin), who sought revenge on those who murdered her.

11. Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam II (Pontianak: Scent of the Tuber Rose II) (2005)

Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam II (2005) (IMDB)

Meriam continued her path of vengeance in the sequel to Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam, but her thirst for vengeance was finally satiated in the sequel.

12. Pontianak Menjerit (Scream of the Pontianak) (2005)

Pontianak Menjerit (2005) (IMDB)

Horror comedy flick Pontianak Menjerit revolved around a petty family quarrel which inevitably led to the rise of a pontianak. It was directed by Yusof Kelara.

13. Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak (Help! My Girlfriend is a Pontianak!) (2011)

Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak (2011) (IMDB)

Another horror comedy movie about a pontianak came out in 2011, Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak. The premise was entirely in the title.

14. Pontianak vs Orang Minyak (2012)

Pontianak vs. Orang Minyak (2012) (IMDB)

The other classic Southeast Asian monster, the orang minyak (also known as the lecherous "oily man", a black humanoid creature which kidnapped virgins), had a throwdown against the pontianak in Pontianak vs Orang Minyak. It wasn't so much an epic struggle as it was a comedy, because it actually revolved around the two creatures having to scare a village to be accepted into the underworld. It was also known as Ponti vs Omi, which certainly made the two creatures sound much, much cuter.

15. Misteri Bisikan Pontianak (Mystery of the Pontianak's Whisper) (2013)

Misteri Bisikan Pontianak (2013) (IMDB)

The tragic Misteri Bisikan Pontianak began with the mysterious murder of a bullied boy in a small village. Of course, there was more than meets the eye to this death, as the protagonists of the film discovered.

16. Paku Pontianak (The Nail of Pontianak) (2013)

Paku Pontianak (2013) (IMDB)

It is said that plunging a nail into the hollow nape of a pontianak would turn her into a docile human housewife, which probably clues you in on the plot of Paku Pontianak. In the film, a family who accidentally knocks down an amnesiac girl bring her home to live with them, only for a series of strange occurrences to emerge after that.

17. Revenge of the Pontianak (2019)

Revenge of the Pontianak (2019) (Havas)

The latest Pontianak film to be released is this year's Revenge of the Pontianak, directed by Glen Goei. Instead of portraying the pontianak as a fearsome monster, it instead takes a character-driven approach to the titular creature by showing her perspective.

Pontianak films will certainly continue to be popular in both Singapore and Malaysia – and hopefully, it'll be the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster one day.

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Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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