Friday, 29 August, 2014

Published March 07, 2014
Cathay's curtain call for its heady filmmaking days
Our Sister Mambo, by playwright Michael Chiang is due in 2015, writes DYLAN TAN
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The gilded screen: Cathay's movie history dates back to the 1950s when two of its studios, Cathay-Keris and MP&GI, made over 300 Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay movies such as Our Sister Hedy (1957) and The Greatest Civil War on Earth (1961, above). Also memorable are the Pontianak series (1957-1964). - PHOTO: CATHAY ORGANISATION

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CATHAY Organisation will be celebrating its 80th anniversary on a slightly bittersweet note when its subsidiary Cathay Asia Films, produces its first movie in 15 years and last ever - the all-star romantic comedy, Our Sister Mambo - next year.

The curtains will come down once filming wraps as the company chooses to focus instead on its core business of being an exhibitor and films distributor, says Choo Meileen, Cathay Organisation's executive director and Our Sister Mambo's producer.

"This is the last," she states firmly, when asked if the film might signify a comeback, given the rosy year the local movie industry has enjoyed in 2013 with Anthony Chen's landmark victory at the Golden Horse Awards for Ilo Ilo.

"One swallow doesn't make a summer," warns Ms Choo, who was initially not keen on venturing back into film production because of the risks involved but went ahead anyway because she felt the company's anniversary was an important milestone and the occasion called for something special.

The last two films Cathay made were the big-screen adaptation of Army Daze (1996) and Jack Neo's sex comedy That One Not Enough (2000).

The former is the first local English language film to cross the million-dollar mark at the box office and its writer Michael Chiang, has returned to pen the screenplay for Our Sister Mambo, which will start filming in August and released in July next year.

The cast will be led by local comedians Moses Lim and Michelle Chong playing a father-daughter pair; and the lighthearted family drama will be directed by Malaysian-born Taiwan-based filmmaker Ho Wi Ding, who won the Best New Director award at the 2008 Golden Horse for his debut feature, Pinoy Sunday. Our Sister Mambo is also set to close an important chapter in Asian films as Cathay's filmmaking history can be traced back to the 1950s when two of its studios, Cathay-Keris and MP&GI, produced almost 300 Mandarin, Cantonese and Malay movies that spanned every genre.

Many like The Wild Wild Rose (1960); Mambo Girl (1957); Satay (1958); Sun, Moon and Star (1961); Dang Anom (1962); and the Pontianak series (1957-1964) have all gone on to become classics and Our Sister Mambo will be adapted from two of Cathay's then-biggest hits - Our Sister Hedy (1957) and The Greatest Civil War on Earth (1961).

Ms Choo says the $1.7m film could have been made in Malaysia - where Ho, Chiang and she originally came from - for 30 per cent less but chose to do it here because it's meant primarily for the Singapore market. After all, she adds that Cathay's legacy and heritage is also steeped in local history and Our Sister Mambo's mid-July release coincides closely with our nation's 50th year of independence.

It will, however, face stiff competition from Hollywood summer blockbusters such as the new Avengers sequel and a Jurassic Park reboot but Ms Choo explains the film is not made for commercial reasons.

"We are not looking at making money from this; it's a commemorative film and meant to be very Cathay-centric," she explains. A portion of ticket sales will also be donated to local charities that Cathay adopts.

The other gamble Ms Choo acknowledges that she's taking is presenting Our Sister Mambo mainly in English even though local English language films historically tend to bomb at the box office. "The risk is there obviously; so we'll need everybody to come and watch the film," she says.