The switch for kitschy visuals and florid melodrama is flicked to 11 in “12 Lotus,” a musical extravaganza charting the ups and downs of a singer done wrong by just about everyone. Following his gaudy 2007 hit “881,” helmer Royston Tan indulges his passion for Singaporean musical traditions on a much bigger scale, coming up with a kind-of Asian “Moulin Rouge” that looks great but bogs down when song and dance stop. Pic scored on Aug. 14 domestic release and may draw scattered regional play but is unlikely to make inroads elsewhere. Helmer’s name ensures an extended fest run.
As with “881,” “12” is set in the world of Singaporean Getai (“song stage”), a series of flamboyant open-air concerts staged for ghosts and humans in the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. Performed in Hokkien dialect, the songs are considered hokey by many in the younger generation.
Opening in what appears to be the ’70s, moppet Lian Hua (adorable newcomer Li Bao-en) dreams of becoming a Getai performer and singing “12 Lotus,” the tragic story of a woman who suffers every kind of hardship imaginable. These tender moments of childhood wonder are abruptly halted by hard-to-watch scenes of the child being whipped by her brutish father and verbally abused with “there is no love without pain, and no pain without love.”
Dad’s words set the tone for what follows, starting with grown-up Lian Hua (Mindee Ong, “881”) making a mark on the Getai scene with Astroboy (Damus Lim), a talented boy vocalist with whom she performs a clutch of terrific traditional and techno souped-up favorites. Joining the act is Ah Long (Qi Yu-wu, “881,” “The Home Song Stories”), a handsome guy who proposes to Lian Hua in front of their adoring fans.
But heroine’s happiness proves short-lived. Forced to give up Ah Long for rather hazy reasons, the singer is then gang-raped by crooks to settle her dead father’s gambling debts.
At this point the story leaps ahead by what seems to be another 10 years, with Getai icon Liu Ling-ling stepping into the lead role. Progress from here to the finish line is turgid at times, with fewer flashy numbers and repetitious scenes of a mentally unbalanced Lian Hua attempting a comeback and being disappointed in love by a hunky stranger (Qi Yu-wu again). The chunky Liu is clearly in her element and gives it everything, but auds may get tired of the character’s cycle of misery long before the bloated script does.
Highlight of a crisp tech package is Moe Kassim’s costumes, which display enough Lurex and tulle to deck out several gay Mardi Gras parades. Original music by Eric Ng and Ricky Ho blends smoothly with the standards, several featuring vocals by Tan.