Have you ever watched Wang Shaudi's 1998 Taiwanese animated film Grandma and Her Ghosts? During the August Ghost Festival, the door to the other world opens, and an evil spirit, accidentally released by little Dou Dou, takes advantage to cause mayhem among humans and souls, giving his grandmother, a Taoist exorcist, a lot of work.
What if Henry Yang is the film's Dou Dou who grew up? Hasn't the Efflore singer and keyboardist unleashed the evil creatures of Taiwan on his new EP: Haunted Island (Fire on Music, 2023)?
Henry: “From a religious point of view, in Taiwan we don't have a powerful force of Evil, unlike Western religions, we don't have a confrontation between Good and Evil. We don't have Satan, we don't have demons, the dark forces in our beliefs are ghosts, perhaps a few monsters from witchcraft, or some hatred souls. There is no great evil power.
And our Hell also belongs to Heaven; Hell is more a kind of prison, not an evil territory. But we often saw Japanese Yokai culture, and in the band, we thought that in Taiwan we could put forward our own culture of the same kind.
After researching some Taiwanese ghost stories, we decided to write around these stories or our Taiwanese urban legends for this EP. Because we believe these themes are perfectly suited to Taiwanese black metal. If black metal had emerged in Taiwan first, it would have had that culture.”
Black metal! Oh no, don't jump back, don't turn away after seeing a gh-gh-gh-ghost! Like Casper, Henry Yang is a friendly ghost and he will tell us some of his best weird tales in good spirits!
The Wraith in the Old Well
Henry: “Around 1860, almost two centuries ago, Taiwan was controlled by the Chinese Qing dynasty. In those days, Dadaocheng was a very prosperous town, rich in the tea trade until British tea arrived in Taiwan. At that time, many people crossed the Strait from China to start their businesses in Taiwan, and Dadaocheng was their first choice in northern Taiwan.
The story is about a woman who came to Taiwan from China to find her husband, who had emigrated to Dadaocheng several years earlier to start a business. When she found her husband, she discovered that he was having an affair with someone else!
The husband realized that his wife knew everything, so he murdered her with the help of his mistress and threw her body into an old well in Dadaocheng. The wife became a wraith to killed her husband’s family.
This story became famous thanks to the Taiwanese opera, the Ke-Tse opera (歌仔戲). They wear a lot of make-up, it is a very local form of opera in Taiwan, maybe you can still see some in the countryside. This story gives us a lot of information about the historical and geographical context of Taiwan at that time, including the prosperity of Dadaocheng and the hard work of immigrants to Taiwan.”
The Tigress Witch (also known as Aunt Tiger)
Henry: “When I was a child, my parents used to tell me the story of Aunt Tiger to scare me and make me go to bed. They used to tell me that if I didn't go to sleep, Aunt Tiger would come and find me and eat my ears and fingers. But as far as I know, the younger generation don't really know this story anymore, because with their smartphones they can look at much scarier things, and so Auntie Tiger isn't scary anymore, I guess.”
As in Little Red Riding Hood, children – in this case a brother and his elder sister – go to visit their grandmother in the mountains. They come across Aunt Tiger, a wild beast dressed like their grandma, who takes them home.
During what can only be imagined as a gloomy night, the eldest sister is awakened by the sound of chewing: Aunt Tiger has devoured her little brother! She tries to get out, but the monster has tied her up with her brother's intestine...
Henry: “Wow! I think that's way too hard for a children's story! But it is a story for children, and I don't know why it's so scary. I like it! The Tiger Aunt is very popular in Taiwan, when in fact there are no tigers here! However, as the story was brought to Taiwan from the Chinese coast, it eventually became a local Taiwanese story.”
Fun fact: Efflore's song lyrics were inspired by the 1980s pop hit from the band Qiu Qiu! (link above)
Spirits of the Green Lake
Henry: “This track is about water ghosts in Taiwan. These are monsters from Taiwanese culture. They usually hide in the water, but they are also trapped in the water and they can't get out.
The evil spirits lure passing strangers into the water and drown them. When the stranger dies, the ghost can leave his lake and the stranger becomes the new water ghost, captive of the waters until he finds a new stranger.
The "Green Lake" in this song is an actual place located in Bitan, New Taipei City. It is also where we shot our video clip. We originally wanted to recruit an actor to play the water ghost who lures me into Bitan Lake, but due to our low budget, we finally decided to use a stone that symbolizes the temptation of the water ghost. [laughs]
There is this urban legend about Bitan Lake: people believe it to be inhabited by powerful water spirits, because so many people drown there every year. In northern Taiwan, Bitan is like a haunted shrine.”
What are you doing hiding under that blanket? You know, in Taiwan, during Ghost Month, hungry specters are appeased by banquets dedicated to them. Let's take advantage of the fact that they're looking at a few juicy oranges and leave without