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…