When Catherine Van-Davies first saw Hungry Ghosts she was surprised at how scary it was.
Some may find it obvious that a mini-series with the word "ghost" in the title would offer some scary moments. But the Canberra-born actor has always had a reverence for the dead and as the SBS mini-series is based on the Hungry Ghost Festival, it would be safe to say that it shares the same quality.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist event that is held on the 15th night of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. This year it will be held on September 2.
It is said that throughout the lunar month the gates of hell open and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food, entertainment and sometimes revenge - which is where Hungry Ghosts' scare factor comes into play.
Set in modern-day Melbourne, the mini-series focuses on the Australian-Vietnamese community and its relationship with the festival as well as its history with the Vietnam War. Like the festival itself, the show features ghosts with all types of different motivations. And right in the middle of it is Van-Davies' character, May Le.
"She's a character who doesn't know she's the hero of the story," she says.
"It's imposed on her and we meet her when she's lost everything. She's lost her business, she's lost her partner who is also her business partner - the things that she identified herself with.
"On a deep cultural level she doesn't know where to identify and feels like she's between two worlds. It's through that vulnerability that she has no choice but to take on these bigger identity questions."
As Van-Davies points out, everyone has their own ghosts during times of upheaval. For May Le, it's just a little bit more literal and set during an ancient cultural event.
While the actor hasn't had any personal experience with the Hungry Ghost Festival, being Vietnamese-Australian, she grew up with a deep respect for those who have passed.
"That's something that's celebrated across many cultures, but definitely within east and southeast Asian cultures," she says.
"Most traditional Vietnamese families will have a shrine, all year round, to celebrate their immediate family who have passed away.
"We can be scared of ghosts and they're always pitched to us as these terrifying haunting beings, but there's a great celebration as well in recognising who has formed who we are today."
The result of using the festival as the focus for the mini-series is a ghost story that hasn't been told in Australia before. What's more, it's a story that focuses on a culture that is not often portrayed on Australian television.
That's part of the reason Van-Davies was excited to be a part of the project. Not only did it give her the chance to portray a Vietnamese-Australian on the small screen, she wasn't the only one doing so.
While other projects have left the actor feeling like she has the sole responsibility of representing an entire culture, working alongside other Asian-Australian actors meant that various sides and attitudes within the culture could be shown on screen.
"It's such an important thing to have stories, such as this one, brought to the forefront. Sometimes television and the media tend not to focus on different cultures as much and create that diversity that we see in our populations," Van-Davies says.
"You can speculate why that is but I still quite can't get my head around it. I know that I can watch a story about a culture that's not necessarily mine, but is from an underrepresented group, and there's something I find connecting with that.
"Representation matters. It's important people see some of their likeness through entertainment and the media. I'm so excited that young Vietnamese girls will get to see not just one but many really strong female characters in the one show."
When it comes to Hungry Ghosts, representation of history plays just as much of a role as the representation of culture.
The festival itself revolves around the belief that many of the ghosts have died without being given a proper ritual burial and therefore remain lost, wandering souls. It's because family members want to appease them that they offer prayers, food and drink to their deceased relatives, as well as burn fake banknotes and give other forms of gifts.
Within the context of the mini-series, that is represented through the Vietnam War storylines - a point in history which is hard to escape for Vietnamese families, including Van-Davies' family.
The whole reason the actor's family is in Australia is because of the Vietnam War. Her mother's family immigrated to Canberra to escape the war with the help of Catholic Bishop Pat Powers who organised a sponsorship family to help her mother's family to come to Australia for safety after their boat crashed in Malaysia.
"A lot of peoplewho flee war, they don't necessarily want to have left their countries that are their home," Van-Davies says.
"It's the last resort and so when someone's forced to do that for the sake of their own life they're not just escaping terrible things they're also leaving behind lots of things that they love.
"When we experience trauma and grief there are lots of conflicts and nostalgia is part of that as well."
That is shown beautifully in Hungry Ghosts with Lien Nguyen's storyline, played by Gabrielle Chan, who is torn between the life that she created in Australia with her husband, children and grandchildren, and the one that could have been if her first love hadn't died in the Vietnam War.
Then there's Sang Tran (Lap Phan) who never spoke about his own experience during the war. It's a storyline that is not an unusual one, and that's understandable as it is easy to comprehend why someone wouldn't want to talk about the war.
And until Van-Davies was in her 30s, her mum didn't talk to her about the war either. The actor says that's part of the reason her mum is so excited to see the mini-series when it goes to air from August 24.
"I think there's a great lifting of knowing that I can share a story that is such a huge part of her life and celebrate it," Van-Davies says.
"It's hard for me to articulate because it's quite an emotional thing but I know that this means something else to her, and it's been really exciting asking for translations from her, or pronunciations and just for her to feel involved in that way."
- Hungry Ghosts premieres August 24 to 27 at 9.30pm on SBS.