Saturday, 21 September 2013



881 is a 2007 Singaporean musical-comedy-drama film written and directed by Royston Tan. It was screened in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, when Getai concerts are staged across island. Many of the middle-aged viewers who typically did not visit the theatre were attracted (Chan, 2009). This movie is primarily based on Singapore’s Getai scene with the goal to introduce Getai to the younger generation.

Getai has been one of the Singapore’s homegrown unique cultural attributes. However it is slowly diminishing in terms of its frequency of presence due to the evolution of new form of entertainment, Western pop culture (Yeoh, 2011).

About 881

This show comprises of a male protagonist named Guan Yin, casted by Qi Yuwu, and two female protagonists by Yeo Yann-Yann (Big Papaya) and Mindee Ong (Small Papaya). They were both known as Papaya sisters. Together with them were Liu Lingling, who played duo roles as Goddess of “Getai” and Aunt Ling. She had been taking care of the two sisters in the Getai arena. There were also special guest appearances made by Wang Lei, a renowned Getai singer, Kelvin Tan, Karen and Ming Zhu sisters.

Indeed, the invitation of familiar faces in Getai has evoked the authenticity of the portrayal of Getai setting in this film. Tan had also added in elements like the presence of a magical realm of Getai Goddess, whom people can seek solace for in times of desperation. However, this is something we do not see in the reality. Often, when face with despair, we hope for the presence of such strength to help us overcome obstacles. This film has incorporated the hope that we wish we could derive while it is rationally deemed too fictional or illogical.

The film also established a sense of familiarity of the Getai ground by forming a series of dialogues using only titles of famous Getai songs. The songs also act as an alternative platform to convey the intended emotions or thoughts of the current scene. “We each take half, and our relationship won’t split” is a Hokkien song that was most commonly played during the film. It showcases the perpetual chemistry between the two sworn sisters that was closer than blood. Slowly, this song became a statement piece for 881. People are constantly vying for the things they want to achieve at the expense of their relationships, be it friends or family. It serves as an imperative reminder in humanity of what can be more precious than family ties, which are so prone to be taken for granted.

Other relatable scenes include showing the whole process of Getai singers engaging in fights for stage appearances due to a golden rule of Getai “first come first serve”. Rivalry amongst the singers (as shown in Papaya sisters versus Durian sisters) led to superstitious behaviors, though not commonly seen, but still beliefs that people hold. For instance, asking for god’s direction through divination lot and cursing people whom they dislike through “hit small people” - a direct translation from Chinese.

The Protagonists

Guan Yin, a mute, narratively presents this film. He started introducing the hectic lifestyles and procedures behind the glamorous d├ęcor of a Getai stage and the formation of Papaya sisters. He did not have a dream of his own, and the only motivation in his life seemed to be his rooster, which he carried with him all day long. In retrospect, his goal was actually to help both sisters to realize their goals of becoming a pair of famous Getai duo. Both sisters were bestowed with powerful voices by the Getai goddess and became the hottest singing duo.  Nonetheless, the powerful voices did not do justice to the private lives of these two sworn sisters. Both sisters were going through difficult ordeals that will determine their fate at the Getai field.

Big Papaya had always led a smooth-sailing life. However, the decision to join the Getai industry had caused strong objection by her mother. Despite the cold shoulders, Big Papaya persevered with her dream pursuit as she tried to restore family kinship. This brings forward the point about people’s resolution to accomplish, whereby society’s overwhelming levels of expectation have engulfed our faith to persevere. Often we see ourselves succumbing into circumstances where society’s practicality has stopped us from the further pursuit of dreams. Yet the question lies whether if we have the courage to challenge the norm in which we would like to make a difference in.

Small Papaya was less fortunate on the other hand, with a family history of cancer, she was already terminally ill when the Durian sisters issued the challenge for the final showdown. Despite her weak immune self, the determination to complete her final year of Getai performance did not waver. Nothing could stop her until she was at her deathbed, where both sisters sang a series of Hokkien song to show the fragility in humanity. The dramatic and rapid balding hair of Ong seems to suggest we do not always expect a positive return in the things we put effort in. There are always situational factors that will not be within our control, which may hinder the progress of our hard work.

Advancing to 12 Lotus

A year after the launch of 881 was 12 Lotus. Similarly, it portrays the hunger for fame and glory by the female protagonist – Lian Hua (casted by Mindee Ong and Liu Lingling), in the Getai field. Contrary to 881’s highlight on women’s rivalry and jealousy, it showed the pitiful life of Lian Hua through 12 chapters of misfortune. This time, the tragedy had driven her to a state of despair, which made her lock herself up at home for 20 years, trusting no one but Astroboy (casted by Hao Hao – a famous Getai star till date) whom she had formed a band with during her past glory. Despite the act of betrayal by the man whom she loved for life, she naively harped on his return one day. All she had left was a Guan Yin statue and her favorite biscuit cracker, where they were the only platform she could seek solace in. In contrast to 811, when the two sisters had the support from Aunt Ling and Guan Yin, perhaps the belief in love kept the faith and living going.


1.     Yeoh (2011) “Getai and Ghost breath life into new Asia” [online] Retrieved on 20 September 2013
2.     Chan (2009) “Gender and Class in the Singapore film 881” [online] Retrieved on 20 September 2013
3.     Xinmsn video 881 2010 (xinmsn, 2010) Retrieved on 20 September 2013
4.     MovieXclusive Retrieved on 20 September 2013
5.     Wikipedia [online] Retrieved on 20 September 2013
6.     MovieXclusive Retrieved on 20 September 2013
7.     Xinmsn video 12 Lotus 2010 (xinmsn, 2010) Retrieved on 20 September 2013
8.     Stefan (2008) “Review of 12 Lotus”  [online] Retrieved on 20 September 2013