Joko Anwar delves into his childhood for his next film, a comedy titled 'Orang Kaya Baru' ('Nouveau Riche'). (Photo courtesy of Film from the South)

Joko Anwar's Not So Crazy Rich Asians

DECEMBER 14, 2018

Jakarta. Joko Anwar, with more than 1.6 million Twitter followers, most of whom started following him after he did a stunt running around naked in a minimart in Jakarta, is one of Indonesia's most popular film directors. But ironically, we know very little about his life, especially his story as a young child.

Now the award-winning director of "Pintu Terlarang" ("Forbidden Door"), hit horror remake "Pengabdi Setan" ("Satan's Slaves") and HBO Asia's supernatural horror series "Halfworlds," will bare it all in an upcoming comedy he has written called "Orang Kaya Baru" ("Nouveau Riche").

The film, scheduled for release on Jan. 24, will mine Joko's memories of his childhood.

The director grew up as the youngest of three siblings in a poor neighborhood in Medan, North Sumatra, in the 1980s.

His father was a becak driver-turned-welder and his mother sold fabrics at the local market.

During an interview in South Jakarta on Tuesday (11/12), Joko said growing up was a tough time for him. His siblings were older by eight and fifteen years and led their own lives. He also implied that it wasn’t exactly a warm family.

Watching films and reading books became his favorite escape. But his parents did not have enough money to buy him the books he wanted or to pay for his cinema tickets.

"I used to dream that my parents would become rich one day so I could buy anything I wanted. When I was a kid, I had an encyclopedia that I just loved reading so much. One day, I accidentally knocked it into the gutter. I prayed each day that the book will somehow return to me undamaged, but no, it just fell apart," Joko said.

Directed by comedy specialist Ody C. Harahap of "Kapan Kawin" ("When Are You Going to Get Married?"), "Sweet 20" and "Kawin Kontrak" ("Contract Marriage"), OKB follows the story of a poor family in Jakarta who gets rich overnight after receiving a settlement.

The family decides to have fun with their new-found riches, but soon encounters troubles.

Joko said the film tries to highlight human behavior toward money.

"When you're poor and suddenly have a lot of money, your life changes drastically. Now you can afford so many things. You can easily lose yourself," he said.

Joko also drew inspiration from the absence of family bonding that he experienced as a child.

The director said he has always been interested in father-and-son relationship because he and his father never talked much.

"My father rarely spoke to me. Every time I watch a movie about a father and his son, I would bawl my eyes out," Joko said.

Family problems, in fact, are at the center of many of Joko's films.

Joko’s latest horror film, "A Mother’s Love," for example, features a Javanese ghost called wewe gombel, an old woman who kidnaps children.

Wewe gombel stories are traditional cautionary tale for parents who neglect their kids.

His horror blockbuster from last year, Pengabdi Setan, also features the ghost of a woman, one who had joined a cult so she could bear a child.

Not So Crazy Rich Asians

Stories about rich people tend to do well at the box office. The Hollywood hit "Crazy Rich Asians," released two months ago in Indonesia, did very well locally, and many Indonesian sinetron (soap opera) also features rich people living in baroque mansions.

Local hitmaker studio Falcon Pictures has jumped into the bandwagon to produce "Crazy Rich Surabayans" – inspired by local memes parodying Crazy Rich Asians – later next year.

Producer Frederica told Liputan 6 the studio will start by launching a novel first before eventually adapting it for the big screen.

Joko vehemently said OKB will be nothing like Crazy Rich Asians.

"I wrote the script before [Crazy Rich Asians] was released here. The story is purely based on my childhood," he said.

Joko said the film tries to unpack all the emotional layers of each character as they make the transition from rags to riches.

"It will teach you about life and how important family is in it," Joko said.

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