is this a checkup or a concert?

This is a delightful scene from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (2006). I saw some of his works in LA a couple years back, an exhibition at Redcat. But it was only this weekend, when I saw his newest film, Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives, that I started to really appreciate the kinds of forms that lap from film to film–the diptychs that chop films into before/after or different POV halves, characters who double and then return as ghosts, the pop ballads that end the films and stretch into the credits. In Syndromes, it’s a plaza aerobics scene, in Uncle Boonmee it’s an ambient song in a diner that then plays as the backdrop in a hospital room, with a change of cast, and maybe a ghost.

The character who plays the dentist here will crop up again in his pop star guise toward the end, when he re-meets the monk, but in a  sparkly green glam blazer, while on tour and in disguise.

No one here is a ghost–yet. Although they will confer about one later, when they meet again. The film was screened as part of a very entertaining conference at Berkeley on Asian Horror Cinema “and beyond.” It seems that horror started as a genre (J-horror, K-horror, etc.) and now isn’t one anymore, since it’s become so crowded not only with extremities, but also with ghosts, historical hauntings and monsters such as aswang spirits, batlike beings that may co-exist with you as friends or loved ones, and manananggal. Thus, the beyond. These are related but scarier beings that speaker Bliss Lim referred to as “self-segmenting viscera suckers.” They leave their legs behind when turned into full-on spirit form, and need to re-attach in order to get grounded again.

The takeaway from this string of films was that unlike ghosts in the Dickens to Ghostbusters, these beings sit alongside regular people, and may be involved with them, even closely involved, but not necessarily in scary ways. Apichatpong in particular has a whole Buddhist angle that is about living alongside negativity rather than purging it, and about how past attachments create the capacity for new ones and past lives alongside present, in dialogue with it. Ghosts can therefore provoke comfort and push people flush up against the real while still being unreal, as well as stirring up sorrow or unrest, and need not be tied to revenge.