Dir.: Widing Ho
Our Sister Mambo comes with the tagline ”A Rojak of Relationships.Sweet.Spicy. Tangy”. A few months ago this line would have left me scratching my head in bewilderment but now that I have tasted this phenomenal dish called Rajok, which is a fruit and vegetable salad with a think tangy dressing I can appreciate both the film and the aptness of its tagline. A family of a grandfatherly man with a much younger wife and four daughters, all of them pretty, talented and single is a time-tested recipe for a crowd pleaser. Our Sister Mambo delivers on its promise without adding even a pinch of MSG.
This is Cathay’s 80th anniversary celebratory film, and is a tribute to the 1957 Cathay classic, Our Sister Hedy, and the 1961 family hit drama, The Greatest Civil War On Earth. The premise immediately resonated with me and my wife since she too comes from an almost identical household. This family drama unfolds as the four daughters named after a famous yesteryear movie star and her characters try to find their mojo in the world along with a love interest under the hawk eyes of their somewhat kiasu mother. Taiwan based Malaysian Director Widing Ho brings an assured light touch to a refreshing script by Michael Chiang as he steers a talented cast through a simple story which mirrors the Singaporean success with racial integration.The film is shot gorgeously and set to some very lilting music which made me think of the best of Bollywood musical comedies. Undoubtedly there is a common Asianness in our films which is also evident in the gentle lyrical films of the late Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad.
One element which did not work too well for me was the casting of Moses Lim as the father. While he epitomizes the word avuncular and is a beloved actor locally, he seemed a bit miscast and looks much older than his actual age of 65 years. As the husband of Audery Luo who is all of 32 years old in real life, something does not quite fit. And if you add to it the fact that Michelle Chong who plays Audery Luo’s daughter Mambo in the title role, is actually 38, things begin to tug at the edges of ones credulity. But then again all the actors are so good that after a point you push that voice of reason aside and just enjoy the silliness on the screen. Siti Khalijah Zainal as the lawyer friend of Mambo is a bit of a show stealer and is obviously an actress to watch out for. I have just seen her deliver a hugely enjoyable performance in Another Country, a brilliant play that explores the cultural similarities between Singapore and Malaysia.
If you can watch a film for 90 minutes with a faint smile plastered on your face throughout and only relinquish your seat with some regret at the end of it, it’s the best 10 ten dollars that one can spend. This film did just that and as an outsider in this very interesting city-state it helped me grow some roots here, just a few millimetres maybe, but still some progress made! The predominantly Singaporean audience around me laughed their heads off at the in jokes which induced a stab of jealousy in me, so I suspect this film will serve its core audience splendidly.
I am a big fan of Cathay Cineplexes, especially the heritage venue at Handy Road and the fact that the film weaved in the history of the Cathay Organization into its narrative was quite interesting. Undoubtedly the people at Cathay do their work with a lot of passion and running and growing a chain of cinemas especially in the age of multiples housed in malls with sky-high rentals is tricky business, and I feel the Singapore Multiplexes are doing a great job of programming diverse and sometimes difficult content in their commercial establishments. It is this willingness to take a long-term view of business, infused with a passion for the job of running a cinema that I find lacking in India. While India produces so much great content, a lot of it remains unseen by the hungry audiences since the exhibitors are unwilling to take a little leap of faith.
Go watch Our Sister Mambo, preferably at “The Cathay”, where it all started!
# Cathay will donate 1 dollar for every ticket sold which means this local film needs some special support.