Local film Our Sister Mambo to mark Cathay's 80th anniversary

A new local drama-comedy, Our Sister Mambo, features five strong female characters and, for producer Choo Meileen, that fact alone is worthy of celebration.

She says: "Women face challenges. That is universal. When women are tough, we say they are bitchy. When men are tough, we say, 'Oh, that's good.'"

Our Sister Mambo is a tribute to the 1957 Cathay classic, Our Sister Hedy, about a middle-class widower with four unmarried daughters, as well as another Cathay hit, the 1961 family drama, The Greatest Civil War On Earth.

Written by Michael Chiang, Our Sister Mambo centres on four daughters and their headstrong mother, who have to deal with issues such as dating outside one's race, putting aside a solid career to follow a low-paying passion and falling in love with a man with a child from a previous marriage.

Ms Choo, 65, managing director of Cathay Organisation, says when she started out in film acquisitions, she was only one of three women in Asia in that job. Now, women are much more visible in the role, she says.

She is pleased with how the film avoided the romantic comedy stereotyping and story cliches that plague too many movies with female leads.

"I didn't want that soppy, sickly sweet stuff," she says.

The film opens on July 15, marking the 80th anniversary of Cathay Organisation. It stars television and theatre actors in the main roles, while Cathay employees feature in cameos and other smaller parts. Maria Menado and Grace Chang (Ge Lan), stars of 1950s and 1960s movies, also appear briefly. Cathay locations, such as the cinema in Handy Road and its museum, The Cathay Gallery, also feature.

Television star Moses Lim, 66, plays Mr Wong, the man of the house, who is a movie fanatic and an employee of Cathay.

With this set-up, Chiang says he is able to weave Cathay lore and history into the plot in a way "that is not in your face".

The four daughters are played by Ethel Yap, Michelle Chong, Oon Shu Ann and Joey Leong, and their mother is played by Audrey Luo.

The character of Siti, a colleague of Chong's lawyer character Mambo, is played by Siti Khalijah Zainal, known mainly for her work on stage.

Malaysia-born, Taiwan-based director Ho Wi Ding, who won a Best New Director Golden Horse for drama-comedy Pinoy Sunday (2009), helmed the project.

johnlui@sph.com.sg