British writer/director Mark Duffield has worked for over
ten years as a cinematographer on several 35mm independent
feature films, including Butterfly Man, shot on location
in Thailand for which he won a Best Cinematography Award at
the 2003 Slamdunk Film Festival in the USA. Ghost of Mae
Nak is his debut feature film. He came up with the idea
for the film after learning about the legend of Mae Nak Phrakanong
from the film Nang Nak. After extensive research, he
wrote an original screenplay for Ghost of Mae Nak in
English, which was then translated into Thai. Ty
Power caught up with him as Ghost
of Mae Nak
was due to be released on DVD...
Power: As a western cinematographer turned writer/director,
how did you become involved in a Thai film?
Duffield: I first went to Thailand in 2001 as a cinematographer
and worked on the British feature film Butterfly Man.
In 2003 I was awarded 'Best Cinematographer' at the Slamdunk
Film Festival Park City USA for Butterfly Man.
have worked as a cinematographer on eight British feature
films. I have also developed my skills as a scriptwriter and
have directed several short films. Recently I teamed up with
Brian Clemens writer of The Avengers and writer/director
of Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, as well as many other
genre movies. We made a short film together called Face
to Face. I especially love the Horror/Fantasy/Sci-Fi genre
and I have been writing spec scripts for some time.
in Thailand I became fascinated with the Thai ghost stories
and legends and I saw the potential for a Thai 'ghost' film.
I wrote the Ghost of Mae Nak script in English and
had it expertly translated into Thai. I knew I had written
an exciting project that was a unique take on the Mae Nak
Ghost legend. When I showed it to Thai investors, the response
was amazing and there was a mini 'bidding war' for the project.
A lot of the Thai's were surprised to discover I was British,
but this was also a bonus as they were keen to work with a
western filmmaker who would direct a Thai film with western
feel. And within a short time the film was funded with a Thai
distribution deal in place before I had filmed anything.
This ghost story is based on the famous Thai legend, which
has already seen several film versions - including Nang
Nak, Thailand's most successful film. What made you want
to revisit the story, and what do you think you have offered
which is new and different? Did you feel under pressure to
do the legend justice?
Ghost of Mae Nak is based on a famous and true Thai
legend. It is a hundred year old dark tale of a young couple
named Mak and Nak who were deeply in love. After being called
to war, Mak returns to his wife Nak and their new-born child.
When he is alone, the villagers try to warn him that he is
living with a ghost and that his wife died during childbirth.
Mak refuses to believe them and returns to confront Nak. That
night the ghost of Mae (mother) Nak gets her revenge on those
villagers who tried to take her Mak away from her. The next
morning several villagers are found dead with terrifying expressions
of fear on their faces.
remaining villagers prove to Mak that his wife Nak is a ghost,
exhuming her, revealing her decaying body and dead infant.
They summon an exorcist monk to put the ghost of Mae Nak to
rest by cutting out a piece of bone from her skull and sealing
her 'revengeful' spirit inside. The
exorcist monk wore the piece of bone as a belt brooch until
he died. The brooch holding Mae Nak's spirit was passed on
until it was lost in time...
my first time in Thailand I heard of a shrine that is devoted
to a famous Thai ghost called Mae Nak. I visited the shrine
and was surprised to see hundreds of Thai people pray and
give offerings to Mae Nak and ask her for a blessing or guidance.
then began to research the Mae Nak story listening to the
various versions from the Thai people I knew. Each story varied
but at its heart was the tragic love story and the theme of
love transcending death. I also discovered that there had
been many films about Mae Nak over the last 50 years. Most
were hysterical comedies with poor production value and OTT
watched the definitive Mae Nak period film called Nang
Nak directed by Nonzi Nimiburt. This film concluded with
the 'evil' spirit of Mae Nak being held captive in a piece
of bone cut from her forehead by an exorcist monk, and the
bone was lost in time. It was here that I was inspired to
write my script and continue the Mae Nak story. In Thailand
Mae Nak is a legend and there are many stories about her.
A lot of people believe the legend to be true and the Monk
who exorcised her did exist. The legend is as famous to Thailand
as Dracula or Jack the Ripper is to the west. Yes I
was under a lot of pressure to do justice to the legend but
I felt I had written a unique idea that treated the ghost
I've reviewed a lot of Tartan Asia Extreme films for Sci-fi
Online and, although I enjoy most, it's easy to point out
influences. In Ghost of Mae Nak there are elements
of Hideo Nakata's Ringu, The
Omen, and even Ju-On: The Grudge. Was
this a conscious decision to employ what has proved to work
Yes you are right these films had a strong influence on my
film. I was going to write and direct a Thai ghost feature
film so I was keen to include elements from my favourite horror/ghost
films. Other films that I pay 'homage' to are The
Haunting (1962), The
Exorcist, The Omen (1976), Final
Destination and of course many Japanese, Korean and Thai
what was important was to be inspired by cinematic scenes
or ideas that were right for the storyline and were also true
to the Thai locations and culture.
You've managed to succeed by making your film creepy, wistful
and humorous. These elements seldom work well together, but
here they are carefully kept separated. A very funny moment,
that wouldn't look out of place in an Airplane or Naked
Gun movie, is when the ghost appears and we see the consequences
of a man's terror - he knocks boiling water over himself,
gets struck by a vehicle, and sets himself ablaze. It seems
to work because the ghost has vanished before the comedic
elements take place. Can you tell us a little about the intended
structure and the decision to include some dark humour?
Thank you for your accurate observation. I spent a long time
on the edit and trying to get those elements right. For the
death scenes in Ghost of Mae Nak I wanted them be almost
matter-of-fact but have a shocking impact, a bit like being
a witness to a sudden road accident. Obviously Final Destination
had influenced me, and also The Omen (1976), but I
also wanted to be true to the Mae Nak legend in which those
who 'wrong' her would die a sudden and terrifying death.
guess the humour comes out of the 'absurd' or even surreal
aspects of the death scenes. What I also did was to quickly
get on with the story once the death scene had happened.
The only part of your film I had a problem with was the attempted
exorcism by monastic monks. Did your research show that cutting
the victim open with a knife ousts possessive spirits? In
a modern society this appears to be a rather barbaric method.
Yes I did research the history and theories of Thai exorcisms.
And the actual barbaric ritual of cutting out a piece of skull
bone to hold the 'evil' spirit did occur in the past (so I'm
told). This was clearly illustrated in the Nang Nak
feature film, which was also an inspiration for Ghost Of
Mae Nak. Obviously it's a question of belief.
the west the Victorians were very keen on removing limbs or
healthy organs as a prevention of suspected disease. Even
lobotomies were seen as a cure for psychiatric patients.
been a recent news story about an American couple that are
removing organs and restricting the growth of their disabled
child. Is this a form of modern exorcism? But I did speak
to several Thai Monks (through interpreters) and was told
of many variations on exorcisms. I was using the present day
exorcism scene as a dramatic licence in my storyline that
was also a mirroring of a past event, but also I try to justify
it by the previous supernatural outrageous events that force
the parents to take drastic measures. A note inspired from
Mrs McNeil in The Exorcist?
East Asia has produced a number of high quality supernatural
tales, since Ringu. What do you think is the appeal
of this genre?
I think the appeal for East Asian horror and supernatural
tales is that they are easier to believe in. On one hand everything
is different to the western eye - people, language, locations
- but on the other we can still identify with it. It's easier
to put our beliefs in East Asian ghost legends and myths;
their history is still mysterious and complex.
what is interesting to also see is that we have the potential
in the west to reinvent the genre and take a note from the
East Asian tales.
Some audiences still seem to be short-sighted when it comes
to subtitled foreign language films (America in particular).
How do you see sales going in Britain and other English-speaking
countries? What feedback have you received from Thailand and
The film was released all over Thailand and went to number
three in the Thai box-office. There was a big Thai media attendance
at the premiere in Bangkok. The distribution company actually
built a Mae Nak shrine outside the cinema on the pavement.
They had an official Buddhist consecration ceremony with Monks
and the cast attending that was headline news on Thai TV.
This was to pay respects to Mae Nak and bring good luck to
the film. People took the shrine very seriously and would
even pray in front of it.
film was shown in cinemas in Singapore, Malaysia and Korea
and had sold well internationally including Tartan for USA
and UK DVD distribution. It has been selected for several
international festivals like Egypt, India, Bermuda, England
and San Francisco where it was screened at the excellent "Another
Hole in the Head Horror Festival" last July. In the UK
it was shown at Bradford, Cambridge and London film festivals
respectively. It was recently shown in London at the "Frightfest"
festival to a large genre based audience. And it was selected
for the San Diego "Asian Film Festival" and New
York horror film festivals.
the film has reviewed well in the US from Variety,
Film Threat and many US horror websites. Asian Cult
Cinema Magazine gave it a cover story.
reaction has been very good and the feedback I get from people
is they enjoy the characters dark journey with the Mae Nak
legend and the gory moments, especially the "shocking" gory
sheet-glass splitting moment that everyone talks about after
it's a shame that a (large) percentage of audiences won't
see a film if it has subtitles. But what is good about the
DVD market is that it is a world market that allows audiences
to discover a film at a different pace to a cinema showing
film. So I feel the 'subtitled' watching (reading) audience
is growing with the help of DVD. However the German distribution
company Nixbu who produced an excellent DVD product for the
German market expertly dubbed Ghost of Mae Nak into
The Ring, The Grudge and (my personal favourite)
Eye, have all undergone lacklustre American
remakes. What is your own opinion on these remakes, and are
you likely to be approached to remake your own film?
I feel the remaking of these now classic East Asian horror
films is a good thing because it actually gives great publicity
to the originals as well as their filmmakers and the archive
of East Asian horror films. Yes the remakes have undergone
lacklustre translations, but the majority of the audiences
would be seeing it for the first time and probably experiencing
the same feelings we felt when we saw the originals.
I find difficult is when western filmmakers do not highlight
or acknowledge the East Asian original, like the remakes of
Infernal Affairs or even City On Fire? I hope
an astute journalist like you will expose and shame them?
As for a Ghost of Mae Nak remake, I do have a really
interesting western concept that would be more 'reinventing'
rather than 'remaking'. It's a really creepy idea and I'd
love to (re) do it. It will be my Heat?
Now that you've left your mark in an impressive manner on
the supernatural horror genre, will you be returning to it
for another venture? What lies on the horizon for Mark Duffield?
Yes. I am writing a new horror script. It is vampire story
that I feel is genuinely unique - I can't wait to direct it.
It's still early days so anyone from Pathe, NewLine or Lions
Gate reading? Give me a call. I do have other horror projects
I have written and am developing and I am keen to continue
with the horror genre - I love it. I do also have a really
scary Thai ghost/horror story, but this time in English language
and with western characters. It would be great to go back
to Thailand to direct this story.
a 'Sci-Fi' note, I would love to create and direct an original
intelligent sci-fi idea. My favourite sci-fi film is Planet
Of The Apes (1968).
Finally I would like to thank Sci-fi-online for showing interest
in the Ghost of Mae Nak and myself as writer and director.
I would like to thank the fans of Ghost of Mae Nak.
I appreciate your support. And for those who have not seen
it, then I hope you will give the Ghost a chance and
allow yourself to be taken on a ghostly thrill in Bangkok,
Thailand and discover a true Thai legend.
of Mae Nak will be released on DVD with Extras on the
Tartan UK Asian Extreme label on 29 January 2007. I hope those
who have seen it will want to learn more about the making,
and those who have not seen it will discover a new horror
legend of the Ghost of Mae Nak.
Thank you for your time.
thanks to Paul Smith at Tartan Video
of Mae Nak is available to buy and rent on DVD from Tartan
from 29 January 2007.
to buy this DVD for £14.99 (RRP: £19.99)