If there is beauty in creation, perhaps there is just as much in destruction.
With only two helpers, a craftsman spends months building a two-storey effigy, every part painstakingly put together by hand — for the sole purpose of burning it to the ground.
Malaysian air force retiree Ng Chi-Wang runs a Chinese paper offerings business in Bukit Merapit, Penang.
Every year, as part of the Hungry Ghost Festival, he constructs a giant paper effigy of the netherworld guardian Da Shi Ye, otherwise known as the Ghost King.
Ng stays true to his craft in constructing the effigy solely by hand, from using his fingers to glue every piece of paper to sawing every bamboo stick with a hand saw. “Greatest thing is the craftsmanship,” he says. “Learning something extra from doing it.”
This master craftsman pays close attention to every single detail, undaunted by the sheer scale of the project. When every single piece of paper is pasted on the mold, the resulting figure takes on a life of its own, with ordinary paper turning sacred as the townsfolk kneel before and pay their respects to the formidable Ghost King.
Perhaps inspired by Ng’s attention to detail, filmmaker Dick Chua similarly trains his camera on the most intricate of details in his documentary profiling Ng, ‘The Ghost King’.
From the close-ups of glowing embers to using high-definition cameras that reveal the texture of bamboo, Chua pays homage to the intricacies of paper art with the technical realisations of his film.
For Ng and his helpers, three months of hard work comes to a conclusion on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when devotees take Da Shi Ye out on a procession, shower him with paper money. They then pay their final respects, and in reverence, set him alight.
The flames reflected in his eyes, Ng looks on proudly as Da Shi Ye crumbles to the ground, and the ashes float to the heavens.
While he concedes that it is impossible to make a living this way, Ng knows that he will be back with another effigy next year. And the next.
For as long as he can work, the craftsmen is devoted to upholding this larger-than-life tradition.