Amanda Nell Eu on her new feminist body horror film ‘Tiger Stripes’: “Society still fears the female body”

The writer-director tells NME about how her coming-of-age inspired the Malaysian film premiering at Cannes

Puberty is a horror film, and so is the sekolah rendah experience: in Tiger Stripes, written and directed by Malaysian-born filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu, twelve-year-old Zaffan is the first amongst her friends to get her period – and along with it, discovers another terrifying secret within. Adolescence is not the only source of horror here, although it is key to everything. The title Tiger Stripes is a play on stretch marks, the kind that “kids sometimes get when they grow too fast,” Amanda tells NME. “It’s very much a coming-of-age tale of a girl turning into a woman, the pains of growing up, the insecurities she’d have about her body.”

If you know where to look, much of Amanda’s work – the pontianak and the penanggalan, “female icons” of her past shorts Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu and Vinegar Baths, respectively – is an ode to the monstrous feminine within the context of Southeast Asia. “Society still fears the female body. Right, well, I’ll show you a scary, strong, powerful female body,” she laughs.

Her feature film, Tiger Stripes, marks several firsts: as her first full-length, it’s also the first film directed by a female director from Malaysia to premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. At the time of publishing, there are no dates for a regional theatrical release as yet, though she is hopeful of a run at the end of the year or early next.

NME meets Amanda Nell Eu in Kuala Lumpur to talk about the director’s personal experiences, Tiger Stripes and the horrors that shape it.


Tiger Stripes
A still from ‘Tiger Stripes’. Credit: Ghost Grrrl Pictures

Tell us about how you came to horror. 

“In Malaysia, I grew up with all kinds of old wives’ tales – like, ‘don’t open your umbrella indoors or you’ll let out the spirits!’ – and stories about the pontianak. As a kid, I loved these stories, and so horror became a door to cinema for me. I fell in love with horror, and then I fell in love with cinema.”

At a young age, you moved to the UK to study. You’ve mentioned that you didn’t fit in very well there, and when you moved back to Malaysia after graduating from the London Film School, you found that you didn’t fit in here too. How do you feel now, and how has that colored your filmmaking process? 

“I know who I am now. I’m proud of who I am today, and I think that’s when you figure out how you fit in – and the thing is, you always do fit in, as long as you know yourself. That in itself has totally coloured how I make my films; I tend to celebrate these characters, like the pontianak and the penanggalan, that aren’t meant to fit in, and of course, to me, they’re my heroes.”

In particular, what do you find interesting about the pontianak and the penanggalan?

“The pontianak is so badass; here you have this incredibly, incredibly beautiful woman with a dark, hideous side, and I think that’s such a beautiful, and very real, representation of women. We should celebrate that more! With the penanggalan, I love the idea and the image of a woman separating away from her body; even today, in so many cultures in so many parts of the world, women still don’t have autonomy over their bodies. That’s why I make these films, to try to twist or subvert that trope, to empower instead.”


Tiger Stripes is an eight-country co-production, with funding from Malaysia’s PENJANA and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority. What was pre-production like, and why was it important for you to secure international partners? 

“As an independent film, we needed funding; we applied to every public fund we could apply to, so that we could pull together the budget we needed to make the film.

Aside from that very practical need, I found it so beneficial to have all these partners on board. I’m so grateful to our co-producers because they’re all super-experienced stars, and we learned so much from them. We had makeup artists from the Netherlands, from Singapore; DOP from France; a lot of post-pro was done in France; then Taiwan for VFX; and of course, Indonesia’s Gabber Modus Operandi for music. It was so great to see everyone work together, learn from each other – and to create something that is so unique.”

Is Tiger Stripes a sort of retelling of your coming-of-age experience? Are all the characters you?

“Every character I create is me. The starting point was personal; dealing with my personal feelings and insecurities about growing up as a young girl, going through puberty. As I was researching the film and as I was meeting and getting to know our cast of young girls, talking to them about these themes, I’m finding that it’s all still the same, you know. That was really how the film evolved; at the end of the day, we all still feel the same way about these things, whether it’s bullying, friendship, insecurities with our bodies. Nothing’s changed.”

Tiger Stripes
A still from the ‘Tiger Stripes’ trailer. Credit: Films Boutique official YouTube

What was that like, working with a mix of young actors and seasoned veterans for Tiger Stripes?

“With the film being centered on young girls, we had a big casting call to meet actors within that age range, and the cast we ended up with are mostly newcomers. It’s so amazing to see how smart they are, and what great instincts they have naturally.

It was a great help too to have these veteran actors on-set with them, and also in rehearsals. I planned it on purpose to have this very tight unit, where everyone could share things and for the younger cast to learn from these more experienced actors; even during break times, they’d talk to each other, ask for tips, advice, and I thought that was so beautiful to watch.”

What’s next for you? 

“I’m working on my next feature. I love to challenge myself (laughs). I’m thinking, I want to make a film set in the 1930s Malaya pre-World War 2; it’ll have more mature themes about a married woman, about the expectations of being a wife, a daughter-in-law, expectations around motherhood, but all within this very colorful – and I find strange – period, but of course, expect blood and genre and some sort of horror aspect to it.”

Tiger Stripes premieres at Cannes on May 17 – wide theatrical and streaming dates have yet to be announced. 


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