Royston Tan's 881 is one of the, if not the highest grossing local/Asian movie at the Singapore box office this year, and has already been pre-sold to territories like Korea and Japan. In recent memory, 881 probably takes the honour of having a very extensive publicity campaign for a local movie, no doubt benefiting from the financial and marketing muscle of Mediacorp Raintree Pictures, and more importantly, having the director himself and his main leads take to the streets, performing in malls and real "getais" too. Currently in the running with a nomination in Taiwan's Golden Horse awards and is Singapore's nomination for the Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film, I was quite surprised that the DVD has been released so soon.
But horrors! While the visual transfer is relatively pristine, it is non-anamorphic! What you get is a letterbox format, and this is a real pity, given that the performances in the movie should have automatically granted the transfer to be in anamorphic widescreen. Then again, thank goodness it's not in 4:3 Full Frame! No audio selection is available, so your guess is as good as mine.
The menu design is pretty gaudy, perhaps deliberately done to stay in line with the theme, with each section having a different song from the movie playing in the background. Subtitles are available in English and Chinese, but only for the movie proper. A 16 chapter scene selection is available if you want to zoom into your favourite segments of the movie, but take note that the Bonus Features section has a selection of some of the songs which you can watch standalone.
The release certainly has vast room for improvement in the Bonus Features section. I felt that this movie was an opportunity for some excellent DVD features to be included, and given how the soundtrack sold like hot cakes, thought that it wouldn't be far fetched to have 881 released in some collector's boxset edition. But alas this was not the case, as far as local DVD pressings are concerned, thank goodness it wasn't a barebones release. As far as my memory serves, we don't have a DVD movie release with a director's commentary, yet.
[Edit: Thanks to a sharp eyed reader, we do have one. The DVD release of Perth comes with at least the director's commentary!]
The Theatrical Trailer (2:09) is included, and presented in letterbox format. The first feature is the Making Of (23:02, letterbox) which is without subtitles, so for non Chinese speaking audiences, you'll be quite lost. It's a standard Making Of feature directed by Brian Gothong Tan (who served as DoP in Pleasure Factory), containing interviews with the director, crew and cast, where they talk about getai, as well as about the characters they play. While the interviews were short, they did talk quite candidly, about Royston's previous features, and the fear of a wardrobe malfunction. Contains a number of behind the scenes clips at rehearsals and antics on set. Clearly designed for television as there were logical intervals for ads.
The Day in the Life of Liu Ling Ling (6:45, full frame) again comes with no subtitles. We follow Ling Ling who shows us a typical day / life in the getai business, and she shares her experience in the scene, where everyday is a challenge as you need to be quick on your toes, and constantly expect the unexpected. The ability to interact with any audience is a necessary trait, and we see how her stage life has changed (for the better) after the release of 881. She also shares some customs that have to be adhered to, and I thought that was quite interesting to follow. However the audio in this segment needs improvement as her voice over / narration occasionally gets drowned out by the background noise.
Unfortunately, Deleted Scenes doesn't contain any description nor commentary as to why they were removed, though some of the clips were more of extended versions. There are a total of 11 clips here, but there's no option for you to watch them individually as they autoplay one after another for a total runtime of 8:46. Most of them are identified by numbers (eg. Scene 5, 9, 23, 47, 48, 52A, B and C), while "17B Funeral" was taken from Chen Jin Lang's funeral, "Girls in Car" fairly self explanatory, and an Alternate Intro which thankfully was not used. Needless to say, some clips were rough, and some without sound. Again without subtitles.
The Special Song Segment is probably the best part for anyone who enjoyed the myriad of songs performed in the movie. Here, you can to select which clip you want to see, however they do play continuously from that point onwards, so you'll have to click back to the menu to select the other if you choose not to listen to them in chronological order. Again they are all letterboxed, and without subtitles, so if you prefer to know what the singers are singing, you still have to head back to the feature film.
8 songs are featured, and some performed by the Durian Sisters too!
1. 12 Lotus Flowers (approx 2:18)
2. Prison Tears (approx 1:32)
3. Send Off Vagabond's Mother (approx 1:10)
4. Bad Times (approx 1:27)
5. Last Breath (approx 2:08)
6. Missing Blossom Love (approx 4:05)
7. Mami No. 3 (approx 1:55)
8. Coffee Seller (approx 1:52)
Code 3 DVD (but I suspect it could be multi-region) is released by Scorpio East, and you can read my review of 881 here. I'm pretty mixed about the DVD release, and quite dissed the visual transfer not being an anamorphic one. Maybe 10 years down the road when there's an anniversary edition will we get that transfer, and maybe some valuable commentary to go along.
881, Huat Ah!