How director’s cats inspired teen girl’s horror transformation in Malaysian film Tiger Stripes

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LOS ANGELES – The Malaysian body-horror film Tiger Stripes – the first South-east Asian movie to win the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival – pays homage to 1950s horror flicks as well as the bizarre creatures of Malay folklore.

And its writer-director Amanda Nell Eu – the first Malaysian female director to screen a feature at Cannes – discovered her three young lead actresses by scouring Instagram and TikTok at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eu’s debut feature wowed the judges at the 62nd Critics’ Week in 2023, an event held in parallel to the main festival at Cannes and dedicated to first or second films.

Premiering on Netflix on Feb 15, the movie – which opened in Singapore cinemas in December 2023 – is set at an all-girls school in rural Malaysia and stars newcomer Zafreen Zairizal as Zaffan, a 12-year-old who is the first of her friends to hit puberty and get her period.

But on top of the usual physical changes, she also begins to sprout whiskers and claws as part of a terrifying transformation she initially tries to hide.

Speaking at a screening of Tiger Stripes in Los Angeles in late 2023, Eu, 38, says Zaffan’s metamorphosis was inspired by her two pet cats.

“I love cats so much because they are just sassy little b****es who can do whatever they want, and I want to be like that.

“I remember telling the film’s make-up artist what my cat – who is a Sphynx cat with no hair – looks like. And that Zaffan’s tail should look like this.”

Eu’s kitties also made a more direct contribution to the movie, an international production involving eight countries including Singapore, which provided a portion of the funding through the Singapore Film Commission.

“There’s a scene where Zaffan is pulli...

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