Our Sister Mambo(2015)
- RatedPG /GenreComedy, Romance
Early this year, we featured Our Sister Mambo, in our ‘Definitive Guide to New Singapore Films 2015’, where we already anticipated its release date to coincide with the gala celebration of Cathay’s 80th Anniversary.
It has been 19 years since the last Cathay produced film, 'Army Daze' in 1996, and once again they have turned to celebrated playwright and screenwriter Michael Chiang to produce an original script filled with quirky characters and high doses of situational comedy. Film direction is in the assured hands of acclaimed Malaysian born Taiwan based filmmaker Ho Widing, known for his lighthearted comedy drama like 'Pinoy Sunday'.
A clever device by the filmmakers to marry the Cathay's rich history into the plot is to make the film’s father figure Mr Wong (played by Moses Lim) a life-long Cathay employee as well as an encyclopedic movie buff. As resident tour guide of the Cathay Museum, his role is to narrate and introduce Cathay’s cinematic legends and their classic films to a younger generation of audiences.
For local audiences who are familiar with the wise aphorisms of Tan Ah Teck from the hit television sitcom 'Under One Roof', Lim is in his element when he is recalling a good old story and sharing his wisdom and knowledge.
The film’s premise is largely inspired by the Cathay Classic 'Our Sister Hedy', where Mr Wong likewise also has four single daughters of very different personalities. Ethel Yap plays eldest daughter Grace, who is shy with old school traditional values, and is ambivalent about the return of her love interest from China (played by Nelson Chia) who happens to be a divorcee with a young daughter in tow.
Top billed star Michelle Chong plays the titular Mambo, the second daughter who quits her job at the law firm to pursue her dreams of becoming a chef, working under the tutelage of celebrity Chef Willin Low, who makes a guest appearance playing himself.
Mambo is a strong willed independent spirit, and the resident ‘kaypoh’ of the family. Her cooking not only binds the family together in dinner feasts, but when she learns of any troubles or conflicts facing her family members, this angel will come to the rescue with the best-suited solutions. The only question is will she be able to pull off the challenge of proving herself as a chef?
Third sister is the sexy and feisty Rose (played by Oon Shu Ann) who is given the hashtag (#hotlikeSambalBelachan) on the movie poster. The rebellious Rose is out clubbing late on most nights in search of her knight in shining armour, whilst adding sarcastic wisecracks to the family dinner table. The youngest fourth daughter June (Joey Leong) is the baby of the family and she too runs into her man literally and quite serendipitously, although not exactly in the way that her family and parents would expect and approve of.
Rounding up the Wong family is Mrs Wong (played by Audrey Luo), aka the queen of the family, providing many of the biggest laughs as the ardent Korean drama fan, with her excellent comic timing and rapid fire delivery of the snappiest and funniest lines. She is also the more dominating parent, a Tiger Mom who wants the best for her children, as compared to the more relaxed and benevolent parenting style of Mr Wong.
This is a deliberate update to more contemporary family dynamics and societal norms as formerly depicted in the Cathay Classics such as 'Our Sister Hedy' and 'The Greatest Civil War', where the family is headed by one single parent – the patriarchal father. Current taboos and issues such as inter-racial relationships, acceptance of new immigrants from China and prevalence of social media tools versus the traditional human touch are also incorporated into the screenplay to make it relevant to the 21st century audiences.
MISCASTING DUE TO AGE DIFFERENCE
While all the actors did their utmost in portraying their characters and delivering their best performances, there is however a gaping age difference between Moses Lim (65) and Audrey Luo (32) which can be distracting at times, especially when Mr and Mrs Wong are displaying affection and showing the more romantic side to their relationship.
Despite Audrey’s efforts to age, you can’t help but notice that Mr Wong looks more like her father rather than her loving husband of thirty years.
Ethel Yap is also miscast to be the eldest daughter, as Michelle Chong’s Mambo and Shu Ann’s Rose both look older and more mature than her. Instead of playing the eldest daughter, it wouldn’t make a difference to the plot dynamics if her role of Grace has been changed to become the third daughter instead.
The filmmakers has a huge challenge juggling the many storylines and screen time of the ensemble characters, and they were not entirely successful in the balancing act.
The characters and storylines of Rose and Grace ended up being severely underdeveloped, while Audrey Luo’s performance of Mrs Wong has seemingly stolen the thunder from Michelle’s titular Mambo, to become the main protagonist and the most memorable character of the entire film.
Again credit is largely due to Audrey’s scene-stealing performances, but one wonders if more editing behind the scenes could have given a more balanced development to the various characters and storylines.
HEARTWARMING TRIBUTE TO CATHAY
While 'Our Sister Mambo' is at its core a family comedy drama and a homage to the Cathay’s history and cinematic legacy, it is also largely a tribute to the staff and people who have worked at the Cathay Organisation.
Mr Wong echoes the voice of a veteran Cathay cinema manager who still fondly remembers the sounds of the 35mm film projector from yesteryear, and the film lovingly feature cameos from the biggest Cathay stars Maria Menado and Grace Chang.
Also acting in the film are several of Cathay’s staff employees, and even the producer Choo Meileen herself made a brief cameo appearance, playing a ‘blink you will miss’ tea lady at a meeting scene, while letting an actress play her big screen alter-ego as Cathay’s lady boss.
For people who knew Cathay for many years, the cameo and guest appearances are a lot of fun to spot, and there is a fuzzy heartwarming feeling that likens to a surprise family reunion.
For the uninitiated, this is nevertheless a very likable and fun family comedy that can be enjoyed for all ages.
'Our Sister Mambo' is now showing in cinemas