karaoke for me - image by J
Three nights ago, the temple activities started in anticipation of the 7th month in the form of an all-out community Karaoke. From 6 to 11pm, auntie after uncle after auntie made their requests, trooped up on stage, and belted out songs of sorrow, joy. love and regret - off-key, nasal, all vibralto, or just plain croak-ish. The stage was at a corner of the temple, facing a small plot of empty grass. There was no audience, except the next auntie or uncle waiting by the side; and not even audience of the ghostly kind, since the time of their feasting and release had not started. If not for the coloured tubes of florescent light on stage, it was dark.
capture of the cinema screen, the closing shot of the 881 credits -image by J
Last night, J and I went to catch Royston Tan's new film 881 (click to view trailers), his musical tribute to the getai and the heartaches of the common man/girl. His previous films 15 and 4:30 were precocious; and the numeric title for his 3rd feature film didn't bode well at first. But 881 proved to an extremely likable film. There was laughter all throughout the first 70min and sniffly noises in the last 20min.
How not to like a film when next to you in the cinema are 3 women in their 50s who are probably real-life getai fans, wow-ed at all the sequinned costumes, and at one point in the movie, actually started singing along. How not to like a film where there was a generous serving of hokkien-style bawdry, most of it spouted by that fat lady getai superstar everyone loves (刘玲玲). How not to like a film whose leads are known as the papaya sisters and every other scene features extras who are the colourful folks you find sitting around in your neighbourhood coffeeshop...like the sad-faced bird shop owner in the film who spots a carrot-coloured poodle perm,
Cheesy as some of the lyrics of those hokkien getai standards may be, I cannot help but think that getais are what they are because they are relevant to their audience. There is a getai standard about suffering from a terminal illness in old age, "in and out of the General Hospital", "hoping your parents will come to get you quick" (all of which I can imagine Ma J thinking throughout her 1 year with stroke)...a standard about a hawker's life... another about the ungrateful child or lover who has abandoned you in your 1-room HDB flat... and the movie's default "theme" song, that classic about the equal sharing of everything you have with someone you love.
Getais are loved because their fantastic lights, electronic sounds and coarse humour provide a momentary escape, yet the earthy banter and vernacular lyrics remain right next to that sore or soft spot in the audience's heart - even if your life is never that dramatic or colourful. The glitter and the grime.
All of which almost makes you want to go do some cathartic bathroom singing.
p/s read wheyface's review(spoilers!!) here