Two girls, one dream. Little Papaya and Big Papaya grow up idolizing Chen Jin Lang, the King of Hokkien Getai, and dream of becoming Getai singers themselves. Their heart wrenching story is related by their introspective but highly sensitive friend and driver, Guan Yin.
Coached by their seamstress Ling Yi (Aunt Ling), the Papaya sisters struggle at first because they have no “feel” in their voices. As a last resort, they appeal to Aunt Ling’s estranged twin sister, the Goddess of Getai, for help. She grants them their wish, but warns them the price will be high, especially if they do not obey the rules of Getai. Rule number 5 states that they shall not love or be loved by any man.
The Papaya sisters hit the getai circuit and sing their hearts out with their newfound “feel”. Big Papaya is pursuing her dream in spite of strong parental objections. Little Papaya, being an orphan, is in a personal race against time to realize her potential. Like her deceased parents, Little Papaya suffers from cancer and has little time left. Through their perseverance, hard work and Aunt Ling’s amazing costumes, the Papayas become the most popular sister act in town. They use their fame to help raise funds to help Chen Jin Lang, who is suffering from cancer. But they are soon devastated by the death of their idol, Chen Jin Lang. While Little Papaya grieves, Big Papaya finds solace in the arms of Guan Yin.
Unknown to them, rival sister group Durian Sisters have become intensely jealous of the Papayas’ success, and are determined to trip them up by messing up their schedule. With the help of their gangster Godfather, the Durians succeed in shutting the Papayas out of many getai. They are ruthless in their underhand attacks on the Papayas, using magical darts to hurt their rivals. Guan Yin cannot defend them, and even the Goddess is appalled by the tactics employed by the Durians. Although she grants the Papayas whatever celestial powers she can bestow, she warns them that there is a limit to what she can do.
At a confrontation, the Durians challenge the Papayas to a showdown. The stakes are high: whoever loses will leave the getai scene for good. The Papayas accept, and start preparing for the big day – new costumes, new songs, new dances. The movie climaxes with a dramatic musical battle. Both sides pull out all the stops to win over the audience, at first with their musical numbers. But as the fight becomes more intense, the Durians attack with their laser darts and the Papayas retaliate with their celestial powers. Who will triumph? Watch Royston Tan’s 881!
About The Film
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 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.
- 12th Pusan International Film Festival 2007
- 5th World Film Festival of Bangkok 2007
- 44th Tai Pei Golden Horse Film Festival 2007
- 9th Jakarta International Film Festival 2007
- 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2008
Directed by Royston Tan Written by Royston Tan Executive Producers Daniel Yun / Eric Khoo / John Ho / Mike Wiluan
Produced by Gary Goh / James Toh / Chan Pui Yin / Freddie Yeo / Tan Fong Cheng / Ang Hwee Sim Co-Producers Masaaki Wakasugi / Chieko Murata
Starring Mindee Ong / Yeo Yann Yann / Qi Yu Wu / Liu Ling Ling / May & Choy
Cinematography by Daniel Low Music by Eric Ng
Edited by Low Hwee Ling Distributed by Golden Village Pictures Release date August 2007 (Singapore)
Running time 106 minutes Language Chinese / Hokkien