iQiyi drama Sisterhood, about samsui woman and ma jie in 1930s Singapore, begins filming in Malaysia

Teng Yong Ping
·Lifestyle Editor
·4-min read
Cast (Tay Ping Hui and Darren Chiu) and directors of G.H.Y. Culture & Media TV drama production of Sisterhood, Michael Woo, Guo Shimin and Chia Men Yiang, for iQiyi, a series with a Nanyang theme set in 1930s Singapore, about a samsui woman and ma jie, at the lensing ceremony as filming begins at Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on 20 October, 2020. (Photo: G.H.Y. Culture & Media)
Cast (Tay Ping Hui and Darren Chiu) and directors of G.H.Y. Culture & Media TV drama production of Sisterhood, Michael Woo, Guo Shimin and Chia Men Yiang, for iQiyi, a series with a Nanyang theme set in 1930s Singapore, about a samsui woman and ma jie, at the lensing ceremony as filming begins at Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on 20 October, 2020. (Photo: G.H.Y. Culture & Media)

SINGAPORE — Following the success of its remake of The Little Nyonya, G.H.Y. Culture & Media has begun shooting its second drama for iQiyi set in historical Singapore, Sisterhood.

Sisterhood’s Chinese title, Nanyang Nu’er Qing, roughly translates as “Daughters of Nanyang”. The period drama will tell the story of two women who travel from China to Singapore in the 1930s to work as a samsui woman and a ma jie, or house servant.

Sisterhood will have a mammoth budget and production value similar to the Nyonya remake, which cost 150 million yuan (S$30 million) to shoot. The show will recreate the Chinatown of yore, complete with a specially constructed street setting. The 40-episode series is expected to be released on streaming service iQiyi in 2022.

The show began filming on Tuesday at the Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The cast will include actors from China, Singapore and Malaysia, led by Xiao Yan, Kou Chia Jui, Darren Chiu and Singaporean veteran actors Tay Ping Hui and Xiang Yun.

Actor Tay Ping Hui and Darren Chiu and director Michael Woo of G.H.Y. Culture & Media TV drama production Sisterhood for iQiyi, a series with a Nanyang theme set in 1930s Singapore, about a samsui woman and ma jie, at the lensing ceremony as filming begins at Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on 20 October, 2020. (Photo: G.H.Y. Culture & Media)
Actor Tay Ping Hui and Darren Chiu and director Michael Woo of G.H.Y. Culture & Media TV drama production Sisterhood for iQiyi, a series with a Nanyang theme set in 1930s Singapore, about a samsui woman and ma jie, at the lensing ceremony as filming begins at Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on 20 October, 2020. (Photo: G.H.Y. Culture & Media)

The show is being produced by Singapore-based G.H.Y. Culture & Media, with Guo Jing Yu as executive producer. The directors are Guo Shi Min, Chia Men Yiang, and Michael Woo, working from a script by Ang Eng Tee, who, as you might know, was the creator of the Channel 8 blockbuster drama The Little Nyonya back in 2008.

One of the two main female roles will be played by Xiao Yan, who also played Yueniang and Ju Xiang in The Little Nyonya remake, but G.H.Y. had not made any announcement as to who will play the central samsui woman and ma jie characters.

During the 1930s in Singapore, large numbers of women arrived from the Cantonese districts of Sanshui and Shunde to work either as construction labourers (samsui women, who wore red headscarves) or domestic servants (ma jie).

Xiang Yun, who was also in the newer Nyonya playing Madam Chen, is also part of the cast, but it’s unclear which role she will play in Sisterhood, although we were told that hers isn’t one of the two main roles, which means that she won’t be reprising the iconic samsui woman role of Ah Mei that Xiang Yun was well-known for in the 1984 local drama The Awakening.

Singaporean actors Xiang Yun and the late Huang Wen Yong in 1984 TV drama The Awakening.
Remember when Xiang Yun played samsui woman Ah Mei in 1984 TV drama The Awakening, opposite the late Huang Wen Yong?

Speaking in a media interview, Tay Ping Hui said he plays Henry Liu, the main antagonist in Sisterhood. “It’s a character that will be hated,” he said. The character of Henry is that of a merchant who has business dealings with Westerners in Singapore and looks down on local Chinese. Tay could not share more about the storyline as the script is still in development.

Viewers in China apparently can’t get enough of historical stories about the Chinese diaspora in Singapore. The craze began after the 2008 Singaporean TV series, The Little Nyonya, reached Chinese viewers. The top-rated Mandarin drama featured Peranakans in 1930s Singapore.

The Little Nyonya (2020) was aired in China and streamed on iQiyi in June this year. According to G.H.Y., their remake topped the search charts on China’s social media upon its airing, achieved No. 1 viewership for 14 days on CCTV, and garnered good ratings from viewers.

iQiyi shows, including the Little Nyonya remake, are available for streaming outside China through its mobile app.

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