Singapore's most celebrated writer-director Royston Tan, whose previous credits include 15 and 4:30, will next turn his hand to a musical drama, 881, which is scheduled to start principal photography on March 1.

Major Singapore players are joining forces to back the new $653,000 (S$1m) production, including Tan's long-term producer Eric Khoo's production company Zhao Wei Films, MediaCorp Raintree Pictures, the Media Development Authority, home video distributor Scorpio East Pictures and post-production house Infinite Frameworks.

In the new musical, Tan pays tribute to getai (which literally means song stage), a uniquely Singapore sub-culture. During the lunar seventh month, locally known as the hungry ghost festival, makeshift street performances will pop up across the island-state to entertain the living and the dead.

'Despite the hungry ghost backdrop, 881 won't be treated in the same way as a horror such as The Maid. It will be a fusion musical which looks at getai as an exotic sub-culture that has interestingly taken root in Singapore,' says Raintree managing director Daniel Yun. Kelvin Tong's The Maid, also set in the same ghost month, is the highest grossing Asian horror in Singapore.

The new picture promises glitzy costumes and lavish choreography with the story revolving around the Papaya Sisters, played by Singapore actresses Mindee Ong and Yeo Yann Yann, who aspire to be the best getai singers and are drawn into a love triangle when they fall for the same man played by Qi Yuwu (who stars opposite Joan Chen in Raintree's upcoming release Home Song Stories).

The picture will be shot on HD with Mandarin dialogues while the numbers taken from the treasure trove of the late Chen Jin Lang, a getai king, will be mostly in Hokkien dialect.

Golden Village has picked up the Singapore rights. A local release for this August is expected.