881 – Setting the Stage2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
“881 is my third film and as a director, I have always wanted to surprise people with different ways of storytelling. 881 will be Singapore’s first musical film and I hope to bring out the beauty of Hokkien songs and ‘getai’ through this brand new interpretation.” Royston Tan
The Seventh Month. The only month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar when the Gates of Hades are thrown open, and ghosts, spirits and all departed souls make their annual pilgrimage back into the land of the living.
In the seventh month, Chinese folks in places like Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong burn incense and joss sticks, conduct prayers and make offerings to the returning dead. In Singapore, however, they take the business of placating and entertaining the spirits one step further. They have “getai” (song stage), makeshift concerts which pop up all over the island.
Each year, more than 500 of these concerts take place during the Hungry Ghosts Month. Entertainers lined up include comedians, magicians, opera performers and singers with garish costumes and even more elaborate dance choreography.
Royston Tan’s new movie 881 unfolds against this unique cultural backdrop in Singapore. It is the story of Mindee and Yann Yann, two childhood friends who grew up mesmerised by the glitter and glamour of getai. They are The Papaya Sisters, two of the showiest performers on the circuit because the “song stage” with all its pomp and pageantry is a respite from the emptiness and dreariness of their own lives.
881 will mark yet another breakthrough for Royston, whose first feature film 15 is a visceral and gritty look at teenage delinquents. His second film 4.30 – about a latchkey kid and his Korean tenant – surprised audiences with its pared down, meditative and almost lyrical story-telling.
This new film is a musical, with glitzy costumes and lavish choreography. The actors often break into song to express their emotions. All the numbers in the movie are from the treasure trove of the late Chen Jin Lang, a Singapore getai songwriting legend who died in August 2006. A cross between Dancer In the Dark and Moulin Rouge, 881 will also feature documentary-style (ie “live”) footage which captures the fever and excitement of actual getai performances.
881 features Mindee Ong, Yeo Yann Yann, MediaCorp artiste Qi Yu Wu and twins May and Choy.