It’s past midnight and I should be asleep, but first I must make amends.

Oh, Royston, forgive me for ever doubting your genius! 15 may have been a disappointment but you truly are still the master!

I just came back from the gala premiere of Royston Tan’s 881. And it’s the best Singaporean movie I’ve watched ever!



If you don’t know what 881 is, it’s Singapore’s latest contribution to film (sponsored by the usual suspects), about the tragic tale of two Getai performers, roughing it out in the glamourous Singaporean 7th-month-stage-scene. Website’s tells it more literally than I do-in fact it is the most literal description of a movie I have ever read (sounds like it was written by an intern).

It’s Royston’s 3rd film, after 15 and Cut. I also think it’s the first time Royston’s been hobbled by Official sponsorship, which means political overtones are significantly tuned down. But in any case, Royston isn’t a political director (unlike that other Singaporean director you-know-who) and 881 isn’t a political film. 881 is about Art and culture and Singapore, and beautiful costumes. Many many beautiful costumes. Remember Moulin Rouge? I never thought Singapore could do anything like it, but with only S$100,000 (I thought it was excessive when the announcer said it, but now I realize it was really too little) somehow they came up with something that I would be proud to show to foreigners and proclaim – Look! Look! At the richness that is Singapore!

So when it comes out on National Day, I do recommend it. It truly is a movie that could only be done in Singapore. If anyone wants to watch it again, I’ll gladly come along. It’s good enough to watch more than once.

What I love about Royston is his blatant, unapologetic slamming of his Officially-Sponsored-Conditions. Within 5 minutes of the movie beginning, he brought out the requisite-minority-Malays, that blind guy who won the singing competition whom Mediacorp desperately wants to give screen-time to, and also tells us that hot-bod actor Qi Yu Wu is in the movie, but only because Mediacorp wanted him there (and also to sell some tickets). After showing us his restaints, he then proceeds to throw them aside (despite some sad pathetic attempts to fit their faces on-screen) and get down to some good story-telling, which I thought was brilliant and such a cool in-your-face act of defiance.

Perhaps he can be forgiven for doing things so similar to that-other director since Mediacorp was involved, but I felt Royston has managed it with much more subtlety and intelligence. Thank you, Royston, for giving future Literature and Theater Study students something with which even the dimmest will be able to extract pages and pages of underlying subtexts from!

If I have one gripe about the movie, its that Singapore is in painful need of good cinematographers. The camera was a little weak, I think, and it just didn’t manage to pull off some of the shots. The framing also looked a little awkward n some places, with faces cropped too large for comfort (might be my fault-I was sitting in the second row). I am also disgusted that in the website’s credits page the costume people weren’t mentioned. In this particular movie I think they outdid themselves and should have been given a nod of recognition.

I watched it with a bunch of HS’s friends, and sadly they weren’t Theatre Study graduates, so now I’m bursting with the need to analyse the story and decompose the parts. I’ll save it for when I buy the DVD and have watched it some more, though (because if you’ve watched the movie you have to buy the DVD). There are still some parts that I’m almost certain are loaded with significance, but I’m not sure of yet. Also, don’t want to spoil it for you.

** warning ** Royston, at the end, tries to outdo that-other-director with the sob scene. He pulls out every move in the book and I’m sure he wins if only because of devoted screen-time. Girls must bring tissues. Guys grit your teeth and hunker down, because it’s gonna be a tough one to sit out without at least a sniffle.

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