Nong Hak 'Dearest Sister' - A Lao Horror Film

Laos' first horror film director just realized she can buy real blood cheap at the open market. It's time to make a second film!
Mattie Do
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Lao People's Democratic Republic
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Hello there! My name is Mattie Do and I'm Laos' first horror film director, and yeah, I’m also Laos’ first – and only – female director. Crazy, right? I've been living in the Lao capital, Vientiane, for the last five years, and I've been right in the middle of the birth of modern Lao cinema. 

I’m getting ready to shoot my second feature film, ນ້ອງຮັກ (Nong Hak), or in English, DEAREST SISTER, this fall on location in Vientiane and out in the jungles in the surrounding province. Hopefully, I’ll get through this film without any dengue fever outbreaks... Yeah, last film? That happened.

If I'm counting right, Nong Hak, will be ONLY the 13th Lao feature film. AND it will be one of the most ambitious films ever produced in Laos. 

Nong Hak is the story of a Lao village girl, whose only chance of escaping indentured poverty is to manipulate her wealthy cousin’s illness into dependence. Oh, and it’s got ghosts, too.

Yep. Sure enough.

Two years ago, I shot my first film, Chanthaly, in my house with my dog and a couple actors for just under US$5,000. Chanthaly became the first Lao film to screen in major festivals outside of Southeast Asia. I had my American premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. After that, the film screened all over the world.

The screenings were a HUGE success. Don’t believe me, check this out... 

[Chanthaly succeeds] as a ghost story that refuses to conform to the rules of neighbouring industries in Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan or anywhere else. It is no small achievement that Chanthaly exists at all, and worthy of genuine praise and attention for proving such an engaging and unsettling piece of work. – James Marsh,

Oh, and even better! This year, I was one of only ten directors selected to present my new film in the World Cinema Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Institut Français' Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde. I’m not sure what this means, exactly, but hey, I’m in Cannes figuring it out!

It’s strange being out in the world with my film, because back home in Laos, the industry is so small... Right now there are only four working Lao film directors. That’s right. ONLY FOUR. There’s the comedy guy, the thriller guy, the romantic drama guy and me. I'm the crazy horror chick that's calculating how much pig blood I can buy for the cash I've got in my pocket.

So what if I told you that the film was based on a true story? Well, that’s not 100% true, I pieced Nong Hak together from three or four true stories.

When I was a kid, I heard the old Lao folk talking about dreams of snake or monkey attacks, and somehow that translated into lottery numbers. More commonly, there were the visitations... that's right. Straight up hauntings. Dead Lao relatives frequently make one last visit from the other side to drop winning lottery numbers on their friends and families.

Nong Hak tells the story of a village girl from southern Laos who travels to Vientiane to care for her rich cousin who has mysteriously lost her sight, and somehow gained the ability to communicate with the dead. When the poor girl realizes that her cousin is receiving messages from the spirits that allow her to win the lottery, she has to choose between nursing her cousin back to health or keeping sick in order to get rich herself.

If you’ll allow me a moment of seriousness, Nong Hak really represents an evolution in the maturity of Lao filmmaking. Just as Chanthaly examined Lao familial patriarchy and the place of women in the family unit, Nong Hak takes that analysis out of the family and looks at women’s roles in Lao class hierarchies. The film looks at interracial marriage – between a western man and Lao girl – in a way that’s never been done, or allowed by local censorship. 

Making a horror movie here is a tricky proposition.

You've probably never seen a Lao film before. But that's not your fault. 

The thing is, since the communist revolution in 1975, Laos has only produced about a dozen feature films. All but one or two of those films were produced in the last few years. We have one cinema here in the capital, with two rickety 35mm projectors, that just shows whatever film prints sneak across the Thai border.

When I finished rendering Chanthaly on my 2008 Macbook, I burned a Blu-ray and loaded my production company's DLP projector into the backseat of my hatchback. Then I paid a guy at the cinema to start and stop that Blu-ray five times a day for two weeks. 

And that is how you distribute a film in Laos.

Lao cinema has just started. And because of that, every Lao film is a historic event. Every film made here breaks ground in a totally new film industry. 

Well, the budget’s actually $45,000. But I’ve already raised the first $15,000 locally. Just so you don’t think I’ve been slacking off. 

Here’s the thing: $15K is a healthy film budget in Laos. I can already afford 30 shooting days, I can pay my cast and crew a little bit, and I can shoot the film, like the last one, on my Canon 550D.

But I can’t afford my special effects. And I can’t rent the house I need for my location, and I can’t repaint the walls after they get bloody. And I really want to splash some blood around this time.

Since the Lao film industry is so small, we don’t have a proper gear rental house. Almost everything I need has to come from Bangkok. On Chanthaly, we blew a couple bulbs and had to shoot two weeks with just a pair of 500w lamps while the replacements were shipped up to Laos. 

So your $30,000 will make all of this possible:

  • Upgrade my dying Canon 550D to a Black Magic Cinema Camera.
  • Better locations, MORE BLOOD!
  • I can shoot my special effects sequences – all practical, no CGI – instead of shooting around them. MORE BLOOD!
  • Professional color correction and sound mix.

Believe me, I know how to stretch a buck. And I know how to scrap together a quality film for much less than you might think possible.

More than anything, I want to share this experience with you. I work with a small but tremendously creative group of filmmakers that, with each little feature film, are defining what Lao film is for the very first time. It’s so cool.

There really aren’t many film markets left where the entire industry operates on a first-name basis. And Laos is developing quickly. In a couple of years, even Laos won’t be like this anymore. 

We’ll grow up and the scrappy adolescence of Lao film will be over.

Let me show you something...

Those are photographs of the first public screening of Chanthaly at the Luang Prabang Film Festival. That's the first time a Lao audience saw a horror film in their own language. THE FIRST TIME. Seriously, how cool is that? 

I've put together a bunch of perks that will really connect you to the making of Nong Hak during the most exciting period of Lao filmmaking.

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This campaign ended on July 2, 2014
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Select a Perk
  • $5USD
    TYPE O–

    SOCIAL MEDIA SHOUT OUT! Skip your coffee this morning, send me the money and I'll tweet at you. All your friends will know you're helping to make a horror movie with the first lady of Lao film!

    15 claimed
  • $10USD
    TYPE O+

    PLAY THE LAO LOTTERY! Consult the chart, choose two numbers between 0 and 999, and I'll buy you a Lao lottery ticket. If you win, I'll mail you a stack of Lao kips! If you lose, console yourself by joining our private Instagram. See exclusive behind the scenes in the background of hundreds of selfies taken by my pretty actresses. And the perk from the earlier tier!

    13 claimed
  • $15USD
    TYPE B–

    DOWNLOAD CHANTHALY IN HD! I'll send you a link to download a full-HD copy of Laos' first horror film. Chanthaly screened at festivals all over the world, but now you can watch it on your couch! And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    24 claimed
    Estimated delivery: July 2014
  • $25USD
    TYPE B+

    DOWNLOAD A COPY OF NONG HAK! Once the film is released, download a full-HD copy of Laos' second horror film! You'll have a complete set of every Lao horror film ever made... both of them! And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    184 claimed
  • $50USD
    TYPE AB–

    GET NONG HAK ON BLURAY! Once the film is released, I'll have a Bluray sent to you with the film AND a bunch of special features. You can turn the subtitles on and off. I don't know why you'd want to do that, but you can! And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    25 claimed
  • $75USD
    TYPE AB+

    YOUR NAME – IN LAO! – IN THE CREDITS! That's right. A special thanks in the credits with your name however you spell it and then also spelled out phonetically in Lao! Take a screencap, and get that Asian tattoo you've always dreamed of getting! And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    28 claimed
  • $100USD
    TYPE A–

    GET A SIGNED BOOTLEG OF CHANTHALY! A while back, I confiscated a box of bootleg Chanthaly DVDs from the night market. I'm not sure how the film leaked, but its got English subtitles and I'm 90% sure the film doesn't cut off before the closing credits. I'll sign the disc, and personally lick the stamps to send it to you. And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    52 out of 200 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2014
  • $200USD
    TYPE A+

    LIVE WEBCAST OF A Q&A WITH ME AND MY CAST! We'll spend a couple of hours answering your questions about filmmaking in Laos. Want to know how many times we had to delay production due to dengue fever? I can answer that. And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    1 out of 50 claimed
    Estimated delivery: July 2014
  • $300USD
    TYPE A+

    HAVE A PERSONAL SKYPE CONVERSATION WITH ME! Get 20 minutes of candid, likely offensive, chitchat with the first lady of Lao film. Ask me anything! I'll consider marriage proposals, but only briefly before shutting you down. And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    5 out of 20 claimed
    Estimated delivery: July 2014
  • $1,000USD

    WORK AS A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT FOR A WEEK! Get yourself to Laos and I will put you up in a guesthouse for a week while you work on my set. Hold the boom mic, coil up cables, splash blood on my actresses, and earn yourself a genuine production credit on Laos' 13th feature film. And all the perks from the earlier tiers!

    2 out of 5 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2014


    BE AN ASSOCIATE PRODUCER! Get yourself to Laos and I'll put you up in a guesthouse for the week of the film's Lao premiere. Walk the red carpet, watch the film with a talky local audience and drink your way through a case of BeerLao Gold (fancy!) at the after party. You want karaoke? I will get you karaoke! And all the perks from the earlier, non-exclusive tiers!

    2 out of 2 claimed
    Estimated delivery: March 2015


    BE A SKEEVY SEX TOURIST IN THE FILM! Get yourself to Bangkok and I will get you the rest of the way to Laos. I'll set you up in a guesthouse for a week, ply you with BeerLao and film you hitting on my actress before getting a beat down by a burly Australian for a scene in the film. Spend the week in the questionable company of my film crew and I as we make a dedicated effort to trick you into eating grilled chicken sphincters. And all the perks from the earlier, non-exclusive tiers!

    1 out of 1 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2014


    BE AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER! Your friends can't find Laos on a map, but you'll make film history here. Get yourself to Bangkok, and I will get you to Laos. I'll set you up for a week in the Ansara boutique hotel. Walk the red carpet, get interviewed on Lao national TV, and rub elbows with every working Lao director – all four of us! – at the after party! And all the perks from the earlier, non-exclusive tiers!

    1 out of 1 claimed
    Estimated delivery: March 2015
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