Mambo Girl struts around in a bright pink dress and denies that she stole a pair of dancing shoes. For six nights only, watch characters from the local film canon come to life in an immersive outdoor performance opposite the Cathay Building. Singapore Night Festival 2022’s highlight act – Cathay Hotel: The Curse of the Missing Red Shoe – blends history and imagination in a forty-five-minute detective story featuring icons of the 50s and 60s like Mat Bond, Orang Minyak, and Pontianak.
Inspired by the cinderella-esque Cathay film Lion City (1960), Cathay Hotel puts a spin on Lion City’s ending. Instead, it presents an anti-fairytale where an old, forgotten curse separates the two star-crossed lovers from Lion City – Shao Ming, the son of a rubber factory’s owner, and one of the factory workers, Feng Ling.
“Come in and let us and let us really mythify you, mystify you and create a magical journey for you,” invited show director Jeremiah Choy. “Come into our make-believe world. Enjoy reimagined scenes, take selfies and acquaint yourself with some of the characters that you will encounter.”
Produced by local art collective Vertical Submarine, the group created a replica of the historical Cathay complex for their show at a Cathay Green tentage. This mystery piece draws loosely from the venue’s past as a hotel and cinema, extrapolating different characters from different films and stringing them together into a Cathay multiverse.
Don’t expect everything to make sense, though. Creative director and writer Justin Loke shared that he was fascinated by how films trigger the imaginative aspects of human memory. He wanted to retell the Cathay building’s legacy in the form of fiction, so as he was writing the script, he worked towards portraying how memory would contradict history but in a way, also synthesise and revive each other.
“Each memory is a possible reimagination. What we will then create are new myths based on our past. So ultimately, the show has a historical basis, but what we have to present is something mythical for a new generation,” elaborated Justin.
Cathay Hotel: The Curse of the Missing Red Shoe could not come at a more appropriate time. On 26 June, Singapore’s pioneering air-conditioned cinema – the Cathay Cineplex outlet – ceased operations after 83 years. Located in the Cathay Building entertainment complex, the theatre screened American and British films for the first time in Singapore in 1939.
The Japanese occupied the building for three years, and after the Second World War, its premises even served as a hotel for a time. Over the past few decades, Singaporeans formed fond memories of watching films at The Cathay. It accompanied many through their childhoods and was a go-to spot for dates, hanging out with friends, and simply catching the latest releases.
But like everything else in Singapore, older landmarks have to make way for the changing times. What does the bittersweet closure of Dhoby Ghaut’s Cathay Cineplex entail for all of us? Perhaps, our memories can keep its spirit alive. And that’s precisely what Vertical Submarine’s production hopes to achieve. In Justin’s words, narratives from our memories “generate new cultural identities for the community,” regardless of whether they are history or fiction.
He added, “personal memories and history form our past, which is coloured by both real events and cinematic imagination. It comes to a point where what is important is the story we have and what we identify with as a community, rather than to question if it is fact or fiction.”
Thus, witness the rebirth of film history as reimagined from these local artists’ eyes. Immerse yourself in the physical environment and learn about the characters and people behind movies of a bygone era.
Munah Bagharib, who stars as Mambo Girl, told us, “For a brief moment, you’d be transported back in time into a fascinating world that was actually right here on our little island. There is so much we can learn, so much beauty, humour, and I hope [Cathay Hotel] sparks even more interest in that.”
Similarly, this year’s SNF will highlight the heritage and stories of the Bras Basah. Bugis (BBB) precinct. Centred around the theme of Rebirth, expect an iridescent line-up of experiences from 19 to 27 August that celebrate what our local community has to offer. SNF’s popular projection mapping installations will once again light up iconic buildings in the city, telling stories of Singapore’s origins.
Festival goers can also enjoy art pieces, guided tours, music performances, and a Festival Village packed with F&B options. So head on down to the BBB precinct from this Friday onwards to enjoy over fifty-five programmes that spotlight Singaporean artists and their works. Following a two-year hiatus, SNF is back for its thirteenth edition – this time better than ever!
Watch Cathay Hotel: The Curse of the Missing Red Shoe on 19, 20 and 24-27 August at the Cathay Green, by booking your tickets here.
For details of the Singapore Night Festival 2022’s entire lineup, check out the network here.
Photos and visuals courtesy of the Singapore Night Festival.