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Singaporean Spectacle showing at SOM

The Asian Arts and Culture Program is screening films at the Isenberg School of Management every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. throughout the fall semester. Covering everything from the Iranian coming-of-age story “Times and Winds” to the Bollywood extravaganza “Om Shanti Om,” this series is sure to interest devoted film fans and newcomers alike.

This week brought the Singaporean submission to the 2007 Academy Awards, “881” (pronounced Papaya). This in-depth look at the competitive world of Getai singers was directed by Royston Tan, and was the highest grossing Singaporean film on its year of release.

“881” is the tale of a singing team of girls called the Papaya Sisters, who perform at the yearly Getai festivals. Little Papaya (Mindee Ong) is a cancer-bound orphan, who provides the melodramatic pathos and Big Papaya (Yeo Yann Yann) is a middle-class valedictorian at her school. They have been blessed by the goddess of Getai with a “feel.” Unfortunately, in addition to this blessing, they have been bound to a vow of chastity. A rival Getai group also provides conflict in the film, culminating in a showdown that has ties to the supernatural.

The Getai was chosen as the center of “881,” when the director and his two lead actresses were jokingly discussing what was “uniquely Singapore.” Known in English as “song stage,” Getai is an integral part of the Ghost Festival, which is held on the 14th day of the seventh lunar month, usually in Malaysia or Singapore. The celebration is known for its bright colors and boisterous music, and “881” attempts to capture that atmosphere with extended musical numbers and lavish costumes and sets. Every song chosen by the director was a previously established Getai classic written by the late Chen Jin Lang.

Previously known mainly for his short films, Tan has begun to gain acclaim for his features over the past few years. Both his child-gang epic “15” (2003) and “4:30” (2006), which tells the tale of the unlikely bond formed between a boy and his alcoholic tenant, have garnered much in the way of praise, the latter of which was the first Singaporean film to actually close the Singapore International Film Festival. “881” marked a noted shift towards a more vibrant and extravagant kind of filmmaking for this director, who once was known for his dark and meditative works.

Pulling together elements from musicals, comedies and melodramas, “881” is a film that is sure to have an appeal for all audiences. Although receiving some criticism for its overt campiness and unevenness in tone – the film is an over-the-top musical comedy which strives for pathos – for some, that will be part of its appeal. Be sure to catch this international flick tonight in room 137 of the SOM. Admission will be free of charge.

 Mark Schiffer can be reached at mschiffe@student.umass.edu.

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