Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Creature Feature Short Take: The Aswang

During the recent Arcana convention I wound up on the Asian Horror Movies Panel, and one film I brought up was a terrible, terrible movie called Aswang, which is a pity because the mythic Filipino creature itself is quite interesting in comparison.

I should have known any film whose plot hinges on someone taking their new bride to meet his mother in Wisconsin was bound to be terrible.

The guy's mother turns out to be an Aswang.

Arguably, the Aswang do look like normal people during the day and like to be in professions involving meat, like butchers, for example, so hanging out in Wisconsin might actually make a bit of sense, but my brain is still reeling from the sheer awfulness of Aswang, the movie.

It was like watching a Troma film sober.

The Wikipedia has a long entry on the Aswang that in its short form describes it as:

"A ghoul in Filipino folklore. The myth of the aswang is popular in the Western Visayan regions such as Capiz, Iloilo and Antique. The trademark or major feature of Aswangs which distinguish them from other Filipino mythological creatures is their propensity to replace stolen cadavers with the trunk of a banana tree carved in the cadaver's likeness. They are also said to like to eat small children. Their favorite body parts are the liver and heart. Other local names, especially in Capiz are tik-tik and wak-wak."

I get the impression we're selling the Aswang a bit short in terms of its overall terror and power.

I wonder why the Aswang think anyone will ever fall for the old switch-the-cadaver trick.

Anyway, true to form, as terrifying as the Aswang is, it still brings out the toymaker in people, and you can find all sorts of macabre statuettes and drawings of it all over the web and the street vendor stalls.

There are some elements that make this sound similar to the Hmong Vampire stories up here in St. Paul, but not enough to make me say there's any great relationship between the two.

Both creatures apparently like to hang around funerals, however.

It also likes to walk with its feet facing backwards, like some folk accounts of the poj ntxoog in Hmong folklore.

I should say I may be reading it wrong, but the Aswang's entry in the Wikipedia kind of sucks. It points out there are two ways to distinguish it from a normal human, then proceeds to list just one: Bloodshot eyes from staying up all night looking for mischief to make.

The Encyclopedia Mythica at Pantheon.Org has a much more interesting, albeit short entry on the Aswang.

There, the entry makes the Aswang sound much more similar to the Hmong poj ntxoog, but again, it's highly unlikely that this similarity is anything more than coincidence. It's not likely to be the result of any prior exchange of folklore between the two cultures.

But there you have it, one of the most evil, terrifying creatures from the Phillipines. Or maybe it's just misunderstood.


1 comment:

bjanepr said...

ha! thanks for this, bryan. here's a modern, 'american' recontextualizing of the aswang, c/o my friend, the filmmaker matthew abaya: http://www.rp63.com/bampinay/