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The story is about two good friends who grew up with genuine love for the Getai culture, a form of art with stage and song performances. Getai has a historical tradition in Singapore. After being blessed by the Getai Goddess, the two friends become the most popular Getai duo of the country, called the Papayas. However, the Durian Sisters, their main competitors are very jealous and determined to sabotage the Papayas' performances. Written by
Stephen Frears tells a tale of naked girls performing live cabaret shows at Windmill Theatre in England, introduced by Judi Dench in Mrs Henderson Presents.
Baz Luhrmann pairs Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as a pair of star crossed lovers in Moulin Rouge, a cabaret nightclub in Paris.
Now, Royston Tan is bringing getai, a dance and sing stage performance from Singapore, which would only be performed on the Chinese seventh lunar month, onto the big screen. And he created a pair of sisters named 881.
Entitled 881, it is the pronunciation in Mandarin, which sounds like papaya, a tropical fruit. Here, we have a pair of sisters named Papaya sisters, which was named after Big Papaya (Yeo Yann Yann) and Small Papaya (Mindee Ong), who shares the same interest of listening to Hokkien songs from the late Hokkien singer Chen Jin Lang. They become good friends and with the help from Sister Ling (Liu LingLing, a popular getai host in Singapore) and her son Guan Yin (Qi Yuwu), they rise to popularity at the getai for their performance in Hokkien songs.
Soon, their popularity leads to the jealousy of Durian sisters (May and Choy, the MTV VJ in Asia), and they create troubles for Papaya sisters, which leads to the final showdown for both Papaya and Durian on the last day of Seventh month in a competition. Winners will remain in the Seventh month industry, while losers will have to stop performing forever.
Watching 881 is a rare treat for Singaporeans who loves Singapore films, after we seen several box office failures with mediocre performance and bad reviews in cinemas. For those who have previously watched Royston's 15 and 4.30, expect something different for 881, a musical cum comedy.
Firstly, the introduction was presented in the style of Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amelie. which was handled in the similar way Royston made his short film in the past. Next, as the movie discussed about getai, famous getai performers such as Wang Lei, Karen Lim, Lin Ru Ping and Liu herself were given supporting roles to made the movie more realistic and closer to the heart of Chinese Singaporeans.
Dialogues used in 881 are mainly in Hokkien, with some Mandarin and English dialogues mixed in. This is very different from Royston's previous production, where little or no dialogues were featured. Language used for the film has truly reflected the culture and daily lives of Singaporeans, which scores the film another bonus point.
The songs featured in the film are mainly in Hokkien, with the lyrics reflects the hardship faced by the Chinese in the past. The songs might not be appealing to teenagers, but it is more meaningful compared to other musicals showed in the recent years, where it mainly deals with love. This also gives the movie another plus point.
Fans of Qi Yuwu might be disappointed as he do not have any dialogues, but he will be the narrator for the film. Mindee and Yann Yann's performance as the Papaya sisters gives the audience a fresh new look after having seeing the same old faces in other Singapore films. Liu, however, steals the limelight in the film as her role was a cheerful and experienced former getai singer in her heydays. Audience who could not get enough of Liu will be given a double treat, where she will play another role: The Getai Goddess, who gave advice to the Papaya sisters.
Lastly, Singaporeans will remember the movie as a tribute to Chen Jin Lang, who passed away shortly after Royston had completed the script in 2006. To the Singaporeans, the movie will be something that is closer to their heart. To the foreigners, they will be taught on a unique culture of getai, which only exists in Singapore and Malaysia, as a way to celebrate the Seventh Lunar month.
881 is truly a remarkable Singapore movie that truly reflects the lives of Singaporeans.
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