In Night Bloomers, Australia puts its own spin on Korean horror

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A ravenous monster befriending a hoarder; paramedics sharing nocturnal desires; a midnight ritual honouring the dead – the twisted tales in screenwriter Andrew Undi Lee’s five-part Korean-Australian horror anthology series Night Bloomers tantalise and terrify in unexpected ways.

For Ra Chapman, who wrote the first, Striking Hair Pin, a Single White Female spin on disconnection from culture, the series is an example of way that Korean entertainment can “genre smash with grace and ease”.

Helen Kim and Deborah An star in Striking Hair Pin, written by Ra Chapman, which is part of the Korean-Australian horror anthology series Night Bloomers.

“In films like Parasite and Train to Busan, [Korean filmmakers] have this way of injecting blunt humour and sometimes even slapstick,” she says. “They’re so playful with genres and they don’t conform. You don’t even notice it. You’re just along for the ride. That’s what I would like to see us do more here in Australia.”

Chapman is a familiar face on Australian television, with roles from Neighbours to Wentworth. In the latter, she played Franky Doyle’s girlfriend Kim Chang, a role for which she was once recognised in a bubble-tea shop in Korea. But Chapman has also long been telling her own stories.

Her 2021 Patrick White Playwright Award-winning play K-BOX, performed at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, where she is now writer in residence, reflects her experience as part of the inter-country adoption community. In Striking Hair Pin, her character, Sophie, who, like Chapman, grew up in an Australian country town, forms an obsession with the women working at her local Korean grocery, a store that connects each narrative in the series.

In Striking Hair Pin, Ra Chapman’s character Sophie develops an obsession with the Korean women working at a local convenience store.

“My intention’s always to get across a particular feeling or psychological state in your body that is so hard to articulate just with words,” she says. “People talk about whitewashing and use all this zeitgeisty, strong terminology, but I’m more interested in the complexity of being in a situation and not being able to understand how you really feel.

“I think that’s deeper than just talking about race or identity politics. I’m more interested in the awkwardness. The drama and comedy that comes out of being in new territory, or not quite understanding other people’s points of view. Sophie’s desire to connect with her culture is very confusing for her, and she doesn’t know if it’s desire or lust.”

The film explores “the horror already in humanity” rather than supernatural elements.

“We can’t fully understand ourselves. There is so much pain and darkness there. That’s one of the horrors of our lives – the things we don’t understand about ourselves and the lengths we’ll go to that we never thought we would.”

The series marks the first time Chapman has worked on a project entirely run by an Asian-Australian creator. She grew up without watching any Korean content, or seeing herself represented on television.

“It’s been one of the highlights of being involved in this show. The people that the story was about were actually leading the project, so there’s an inherent authenticity to that,” she says. “That was so exciting for me – the feeling of being able to share stories and knowing your story is safe because the leadership is someone that deeply, deeply understands the show they’re making.”

Her lifelong visits to the country of her birth are bittersweet.

“There’s a lot of emotion about going to a country that I feel so distant from,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a beautiful, wonderful experience. Other times, it’s filled with a lot of sadness … Every time I go it becomes harder. The more you delve into something, the more you try to understand it, the more you realise there’s so much more to understand. With Night Bloomers, Sophie is a very disturbed woman, but I hope there are moments where you see the opportunity, if fate went another way, the beauty also for her to discover there.”

Chapman’s first comedy series, White Fever, in which she stars, is due to air on the ABC next year. “It’s funny, the reactions [to the title]. Already, some people are finding it divisive … Interestingly, Kim’s Convenience is made by Canadian Koreans, Andrew Undi Lee’s making Korean Australian horror, and I’m making Korean Australian comedy.”

Night Bloomers premieres on October 28 at 9.30pm on SBS.

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