By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The realm of supernaturally charged themed television programs is often wrought with one huge problem: not a lot of production companies take the subject seriously. More programs prefer to over dramatize or to tease at what could be than to study it from an anthropological point of view. Very few programs get academic in its approach.
The programs that take on a cultural view are perhaps the best and not many exist. Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, In Search of … with Leonard Nimoy and Beyond the Series belong to a handful of respected programs anyone can enjoy.
From out East, The Paranormal Zone is a Malaysian produced program by Kechara (the production house) which can easily belong to this exclusive club. It’s a very satisfying watch because it often ‘studies’ this world from a skeptic’s perspective. Not every detail from a subject is explored in the 24 minutes that make up each episode and what this program does is to provide an excellent primer so further study can be made later.
Li Kim is the hostess of this show that’s wrapped up its third season. It’s broadcasting on SyFy Asia. If this carrier network sounds surprising, I’m glad they do not adhere to the shenanigans that the US-based company plies in State-side paranormal reality programming. I have to wonder just how much grip the Asian executives have with this program (can other networks carry it?) because this gem really needs to be exported to the rest of the world to see how much respect to the subject and exploration into local culture is explored in this show. Hindu, Malaysian, Buddhist and Taoist beliefs are touched upon in gentle ways. To see how they connect to spiritualism and folklore of South Asia makes this program a fascinating watch.
Season one’s best episodes are “The Curse of the Ghost Child,” “Seawang: The Dance of Nature” and “Dreaming into Reality.” The former goes deep into the South Asian variation of Voodoo and the latter explores how sleep visions can be persuasive on different fronts. From lucid dreaming to symbolic interpretation, Kim looks into one layer of what dreams are made of. If the production company can look deeper into the phenomenon of is Astral travel when sleeping is true, I’ll be the first to help Kickstarter or Indiegogo the finances needed to really explore the subject in-depth. It might be cheaper than pursuing a Master’s degree in parapsychology, to which is what this series is exploring.
Watching this program does help give viewers a great peek into subjects from a fresh perspective. Not every subject is influenced by Western methodologies like in understanding what possession is about. “Exorcism” is a worldwide phenomenon and just what this series episode suggests to create strength of mind is very important when individuals (the monks in this episode’s case) are taught how to protect themselves. Sadly, nothing new is really offered in “Haunted Houses” in terms of what goes on in an investigation which uses modern recording tools. One item to note is how respectful everyone is prior to going into a spooked abode. Speaking from personal experience, any group can get better results when asking the spirit world for permission to come in and explore. That’s not a technique used by every investigator and that makes for all the difference in how successful a night’s vigil can get. This technique is sometimes seen in the odd British show but definitely not American.
Season two only gets better and deeper looks into local beliefs. “The Sound of Light” makes for a perfect follow-up to the haunted house episode to demonstrate a different way to investigate the paranormal realm and in what some spiritualists can do to bring healing energy to a sad location.
The first two episodes, “The Artistic Spirits” and “Heavenly Fortune and Hell Luck” are very well done. Most theatre patrons are familiar with what happens when a certain word from Shakespeare‘s cursed play is uttered and when compared to what happens when the patron saint of Cantonese Opera, Wah Kong Sifu, gets dissed. All the world can be fearful when the spirits are not honoured. There’s plenty of other superstitions attached to this scene, and this episode can certainly benefit from having an extended cut to explore all the fears. The next episode does a nice job in explaining how fortune can develop for people but I think an opportunity is missed when the purpose of what Hell Money represents is not explained. Depending on the holiday, it’s ritualistically burned to give spirits currency to survive the afterlife.
The two-part “Dragons: Fantasy or Real?” episode feels very concise in its South Asian interpretation and not even Beyond the Series has gone into this depth in its exploration of supernatural creatures. Perhaps the best explanation of why they no longer exist is because the human soul has forsaken everything about mysticism (karma) to allow them to see them. Dragons are spiritual creatures; thus, they are mostly invisible to the human eye. That episode suggests that only the spiritually attuned may see them. This interpretation makes the most sense in light of how some fantasy literature talks about how they have faded away from living memory, like in the Dragonlance series. A better comparison can be made to how the fantasy world faded away from human history in the animated film, Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson.
I’m looking forward to the release of season 3 to video. There’s no online streaming service carrying this series yet and when that happens, maybe a technical problem can get resolved. I found the background music track several decibels too loud. They are used to creating a mood during many interview segments and I do not think the levels were well-balanced. Even the sound effects were off; they were even a touch overpowering in the title card scenes. It’s like watching a Rhino Entertainment release of the Transformers G1 series. Despite this technical flaw, The Paranormal Zone is definitely one of those better series to watch for folks wanting an academic perspective in what lurks on the other side.