Ghosts of Macau’s recent past: director Tracy Choi brings out 1990s atmosphere in Sisterhood
When film director Tracy Choi sought out locations in Macau that had the right period ambience for the shooting of Sisterhood – a movie set in the 1990s – she was struck by just how much the city has changed over a few decades
From Portuguese colony to special administrative region of China; from small town to flashy entertainment hub – Macau has been through a dramatic transformation over the past couple of decades. When young director and Macau native Tracy Choi was searching for old streets in the city in which to shoot her debut feature film, Sisterhood, she faced a tremendous challenge.“We needed to look for streets that still have the vibe of the 1990s. It was so difficult as many places are gone or changed. There weren’t many choices for us,” Choi says.
Sisterhood, released in late February, tells the story of former masseuse Sei (Gigi Leung), who was raised in Macau but moved to Taiwan after the 1999 Macau handover. Sei returns to her hometown many years later for the funeral of her best friend, Ling (Jennifer Yu), whom she met while working in a Macau massage parlour, and suddenly finds that many memories from her past keep returning.
Jennifer Yu won Best New Young Actress award for her role as Ling, while Sisterhood received the “Eye of the Audience” Macao Audience Choice Award at the International Film Festival and Awards Macao last December.
“We purposely chose locations [for shooting the movie] that are not tourist attractions. When I discussed this with the producer and cinematographer, all of us agreed that we should show something different about Macau to the audience,” says Choi, who strolled through almost every street and small lane to search out some of the city’s best kept secrets, which are featured in the movie.
While a few scenes were shot at historic sites such as Na Tcha Temple and Mount Fortress, a major part of the movie was filmed in the old district near Ponte 16, where old buildings and shops can still be found. Small shops such as Si Heung – a nut and snack food shop open since 1962 – provided a reference for the look and feel of the Macanese cake shop in the movie. “I helped a friend of mine make a documentary about [Si Heung] before. We wanted it to be one of the filming locations for Sisterhood, but the owner turned us down for some reason,” Choi says.
The scene in which the young masseuses hang out in a food stall area – dubbed Tou Fa Gong – is located on Rua Leste do Padre João Clímaco, near the Red Market. Back in the 1960s, Tou Fa Gong housed over 10 stalls selling noodles, coffee, clothes and fabrics, and was popular with young factory workers from the nearby industrial area. Since 2009, due to a land ownership dispute, some vendors have been forced to shut their business. “We rebuilt some stalls there for filming, hoping to show the audience how it used to be bustling,” Choi says.
Choi laments the fact that there are fewer shops with local character in the city today. “It’s getting harder and harder for small shops to survive today as the rents keep rising,” she says. “I hope people realise [what] changes are happening here.”