Beasts from the East

Strange tales for a American studio: ahead of HBO's new series, we take a look at some of Asia's more fanciful folklore

31st January 2019

Sex and violence mega network HBO is set to release a six-part, anthology horror series based on East Asian folklore — concisely but uncreatively named Folklore — across it’s US streaming services at the beginning of next month.

The show is set across Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, exploring different myths, legends and superstitions. It looks pretty good. Check out the trailer.

The show is set for release across HBO’s streaming services in the US at the start of February and there is no news yet on when it will reach our shores, but fear not. The Overtake has put together a list of some of Asia’s creepiest, scariest and silliest pieces of folklore.


That’s a lot of nuts

Japan has a whole host of demons, imps and ghosts — collectively called yokai — as well as fantastic speaking animals such as the wily fox spirit, kitsune; the ninja turtle with a crap haircut and lust for cucumbers, kappa; and tanuki, the cheeky raccoon with massive testicles.

Comically colossal cajones aside. There is some genuinely scary stuff that could pop up in the show. The Jorōgumo is a gross woman-spider hybrid who ensnares the unwitting. Noppera-bō are animal spirits in human form with no faces, who remove the faces of those ignore their warnings and Tesso is a priest who got jerked around one too many times and took the form of a swarm of rats to teach the haters a lesson. But our favourite has to be Gashadokuro, a 90ft skeleton made up of the bones of those who starved on the battlefield, that bites off people’s heads and drinks their blood.


Yeah, hit it with a sword mate, that will help


Thailand has an enduring belief in ghosts, generally classified by the catch-all term phi (not to be confused with pho, which is a delicious, aromatic Vietnamese broth). Ghosts in Thailand exist mostly in oral traditions with the most common type being the hungry ghost or pret (again, not to be confused with the high street sandwich shop for hungry middle-class folks).

Hungry ghosts are actually prevalent across a few east Asian and south-east Asian countries because of their connection to Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Hungry ghosts are basically absolute dickheads who died in great suffering and because of their bad behaviour they must walk the earth with an insatiable hunger for blood or rotting flesh or poop.

Here are some hungry ghosts waiting for peasant poo. Never has the term “shit eating grin” been so apt

Thai pret have the added distinction of being tall. Not 90ft tall but still.

Some ghost come ready-made for TV. The Phi Tai Thong Klom is the ghost of a woman whose lover got her pregnant and then left her, resulting in her grief-stricken suicide and endless torment of the cheating baby-daddy. Add a sass-talking sidekick and that episode writes itself.

Perhaps the most famous of Thailands spectres is the Krasue. There are countless reported sightings and, trust me, if you spotted her, you would remember. She is a floating head with dangling entrails and an insect-like tongue for sucking up her favourite food blood, faeces (obviously) and the unborn babies residing in pregnant women’s wombs. That’s pretty dark stuff. She also eats freakishly tiny bananas. That doesn’t make up for the baby thing though.


Wewe Gombal. Oral tradition doesn’t mention what her love rival’s boobs were like, but that shouldn’t even come into it. Cheating is just not cricket

Javanese and Balinese traditions are the name of the game in Indonesia, and folklore in this region is tied heavily into mythology. And it features a ton of black magic and weird humanoids. Black magic users could be possessed by the form of Babi ngepet: a shapeshifting demon were-boar. Which is awesome.

There are also as many witches as you could shake a broom at — which is very “in” this season. The witches range from the usual evil, vampiric, pregnant lady attacking sort to the pleasant, misguided, child abducting sort. Enter: Wewe Gombel.

Wewe, was happily married until her husband discovered that she was barren. Mr Gombel, being an utter dickend,  starts cheating on her. You might notice a pattern forming here. Wewe, finds her husband in bed with another woman one day and kills his cheating ass. The town villagers, annoyed, hound and harass Wewe for the rest of her days, until, fed up with her misery, she takes her own life.

Her MO these days is to abduct the children of abusive parents, which is nice, in a way. Despite having goat legs and abnormal breasts, the children don’t fear her once they are in her clutches and she returns them once the children’s parents correct their ways. She’s a supernatural child service.


Malay, Indonesian and Singaporean folklore blend into one another a lot, sharing themes and ideas. There are a lot of vampire women, cheating husbands and unborn baby ghosts. One of the most horrid folktales of Malay has to offer is Orang Minyak, which literally translates as “oily man”. Minyak is said to be either naked or in black under pants and covered in grease who assaults virgins. It’s as dark as it sounds and worse.

On the plus side, there is s Hantu galah. Hantu galah, has a similar back story as Wewe but rather than having freakishly long breasts, she has great big beautiful ones that she uses to seduce and kill cheating men. Hantu galah and Wewe could get together and form the weirdest girl gang of all and take Minyak’s slimy arse down.

The forests of Malaysia are rife with ghost that grow in the trunks of trees, become preposterously tall and gangly. It’s said that these spirits can turn you blind just by looking at them, or that they will strangle you should you venture too far of the beaten track. Of course, there is one way to protect yourselves. These tree spirits are prudes and can’t stand the sight of a naked human.


Korea’s ghouls and goblins are a bit cheerier, though it honestly would be hard not to be after Krasue up there. Korean legends are filled with stories of goblin-esque creatures called dokkaebi. “Goblin” might be a bit misleading to western ears though as they seem to be much more like imps or gremlins, and if you don’t know the difference between a gremlin and a goblin, what’s wrong with you?

Dokkaebi are known for being great wrestlers despite the fact they often only have one leg.

This lad has two legs and is built like a brick shit house. You don’t stand a chance, son 📸 National Museum of Korea

Dokkaebi come in a number of shapes and sizes and range from cheeky and mischievous to downright dangerous. There is a popular tale of an old bloke who lives on a hill who befriends a dokkaebi. One day they tell each out what they are most afraid of. For the man, its money *wink, wink*, for the dokkaebi it is blood. The next day the old man covers his home in crows blood. The dokkaebi, haemophobia aside, sees this as the end of the friendship — as any normal person would. Though, being an idiot, the dokkaebi brings the old man piles of gold in revenge.

Korean ghosts or gwisin can also have a range of personalities, usually the one they had when they were alive, though they can be prone to irritation if mortals don’t pay attention to them. Korea cinema, however, has popularised them as vengeful teenage girls, dressing in white with lank black hair, bound by some wicked oath to stalk the hallways of schools after hours.

Pictured: A gwisin forever cursed to wreak havoc on Plastics. Recycle kids 📸 Paramount Pictures

31st January 2019