881 – Royston Tan’s Magnum Opus?

October 6th, 2007   •   5 comments   

881 is one of those rare local films which struck a chord with me. While some may dismiss it as a crass musical comedy, I find that it resonates with many Singaporeans by showing how underdog performers can have their day. The show’s colourful and spectacular costumes, out-of-this-world sets, and highly cheesy performances just adds to the whole fantasy of getai entertainment. It gives a sense of escapism and good old campy fun.

I like the acting by the different leads in the movie: Liu Ling Ling as the “mamasan”, Mindee Ong as the cancer stricken “Little Papaya”, Yeo Yann Yann as the family angst ridden “Big Papaya”, and of course Qi Yuwu and his rooster. As one who has grown up with the Hokkien dialect in my childhood, I found its use refreshingly poetic in the movie, without necessarily degenerating into the more “colourful” aspects of the dialect. The contrast between the glamour of life on stage versus the gritty realities of day-to-day living makes the movie even more compelling.
Straddling arthouse appeal with mainstream popularity, 881 shows that Singapore films can make a mark given the right blend of storytelling savvy, directorial talent, stellar acting and right context. Royston Tan shows us once again why he is one of Singapore’s greatest directorial talent in this day and age. From what I read, it is already making waves at the box office, garnering sales of more than $3 million locally (which I understand from Raintree CEO Daniel Yun to be “phenomenal”)

Oh yes, the songs are fabulous. In fact, I believe that some of them may outlast and outlive the appeal of the movie. Let me end with this beautiful title track “One Half” or “Yi Ban” for the movie by Wu Jiahui.

PS – I must be one of the last folks to blog about 881, but what the heck. It’s my blog and I will dawdle if I want to…

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  1. posted on Oct 06, 2007 at 7:44 AM

    yes. very proud of my senior. Half wished I had major in film studies instead of design. haa.

    I think your point about it straddling an arthouse appeal with a commercial viability is very true.

    I couldn’t stop laughing (and yes, I watched it on my own) in the cinema at the part of May and Choy. heh.

    For someone like me who is struggling with both mandarin and hokkien, I must say, I enjoyed the film ( i could understand!) and LOVE the songs!!

  2. ed
    posted on Oct 06, 2007 at 10:25 PM

    A very beautiful story that truly links the hearts of Singaporeans instead of just a clap clap laugh laugh apart from another national acclaimed director. That’s art, that’s quality.

    The eventual outcome is a little sad. In fact this sad story is being upstaged in everyone’s life in one way or another. Seeing the same scene on screen and experiencing it in real life is quite different, don’t you think so?

  3. posted on Oct 06, 2007 at 11:27 PM


    Thanks for sharing about your experience. I loved the way the movie puts all the pieces together and it is Royston Tan’s masterful direction in place. May and Choy were hilarious in the movie, and I liked how they capitalised on their lack of Mandarin linguistic capability as a joke.

  4. posted on Oct 06, 2007 at 11:29 PM


    I think life is bittersweet for all of us some way or other, though not necessarily as poignant as how the movie portrays it. Agree that it is art that resonates with the man in the street, yet without sacrificing a certain level of cinematic quality.

  5. posted on Oct 07, 2007 at 4:39 PM

    >> PS – I must be one of the last
    >> folks to blog about 881
    don’t worry, you aren’t the last, coz I have not even watch the show yet LOLz

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