HBO Asia’s Halfworlds is the studio’s latest stab at a new series, and Sunday (Dec 27) marks the fifth episode of the series. With us slightly past the halfway mark of eight episodes, is it still time to plunge into it?
The urban fantasy joins horror series Grace (for which Lim Kay Tong won best supporting actor at the Asian Television Awards) and historical drama Serangoon Road in HBO Asia’s stable of releases. Having just watched the fifth episode ahead of broadcast – it’s clear that the series is ready to ramp up ahead of the finale.
Halfworlds, which tells a tale of a Jakarta where humans live alongside Demit – demons from Indonesian mythology, so to speak. A mysterious event “The Gift” is set to occur, which sets the Demit on a collision course with the human world, with the main character, Sarah, stuck in the middle.
And it’s this duality that really sums up what Halfworlds is about. The show is currently the only major Asian urban fantasy drama on the scene – at least in the English language. This makes it a very special product, especially if you’re Indonesian, as the mythology would largely be familiar to some degree. It’s perhaps telling that a large amount of fanart featured on the show’s Facebook page is Indonesian – the show, with its Indonesian actors and Indonesian mythology, would strike a chord with fans from the country.
This leaves the rest of from the region with more to grapple with each episode. The mythology is interesting, and animator Chris Lie does an amazing job with the little introduction sequences at the beginning of each episode, but if you’re not well versed with the mythos, it can be confusing to keep track between the different types of demons and their respective features. A simple rip-off of vampires this is not – Halfworlds chooses to fully embrace the Indonesian side of it, so you will have to jump into the deep end to fully experience it, even if it means being a little lost at the start.
On top of the art, what helps is the set design and costumes give the show a lot of the feel that really makes it come to life. There’s a lot of mood in most scenes, and despite it being set mostly in darkness, there’s vibrant life pulsing behind the scenes. Sadly, there are times you can tell the difference between whether a scene was filmed on-location or on a set, where the world just looks too put together. Admittedly, HBO Asia doesn’t have the budget of, say, Game Of Thrones – and it’s nice to see them do quite a good job with what is clearly a smaller budget.
The cast – for the most part – is great, and some of the best Indonesian actors are part of the production. Alex Abbad as Gorga, Tara Basro as Ros and Reza Rahadian as Tony are worth special mention, and they all bring something special to their roles as the Demit. However, some of the others don’t quite have the best diction in English – it would have been better if they had to speak Bahasa Indonesia instead (since there are subtitles). Yet, having the whole show not in English might have been a harder sell – but it’s easy to get lost when you can’t quite hear what’s going on.
First-timer Salvita Decorte plays lead character Sarah, and it’s a very impressive debut – a pity then that her onscreen partner, Singaporean actor Nathan Hartono, just seems a little out of place. Part of it is because each episode is only 30 minutes long, which means that you have to cram a lot in – having him spend a good part of it singing just leaves less time for the show. Still, I don’t think his fans are complaining, especially when he goes topless.
Director Joko Anwar does a good job with the action sequences, but makes some odd choices with jump cuts which don’t quite help with the story, while the direction during the slower moments can drag.
And yet, while Halfworlds can be quite hard to get into – it’s from episode five that the show starts to pick up. It might be a little too late for some, but it’s here that we’ve just down enough setting up so that we can hold on for the rest of the ride. Finding out more about the Gift, and Sarah’s role in the whole thing (not fully resolved) helps with keeping track of it, and it feels like one can relax and let the show take you where it’s meant to go.
Maybe a longer running time – 30 minutes is tight for a drama with so much set up – would have made all the difference. Halfworlds at the halfway point is mostly compelling – but could have done with just that extra bit of polish. Maybe season two?
Halfworlds episode 5 airs Dec 27, 10pm.