Remember the brilliantly funny and hilariously risible Joanne Kam Poh Poh? She’s best known for her comedy and for holding court at popular 90s entertainment joint Boom Boom Room in Kuala Lumpur, as well as for her appearances in many Malaysian sitcoms including “Kopitiam”, “Spanar Jaya” and “Ah Girl”. Well she’s back on the small screen in HBO Asia’s latest historical fiction outing set in a small town in East Java. The premise features rebels trying to oust the Dutch from their province while fighting each other for control, and you’ll want to catch Joanne Kam in Grisse as a brothel mamasan who later grows a conscience.
The Brothel Madam Turned Freedom Fighter
In Grisse, Kam plays Madam Chi, a brothel owner who has worked hard all her life, rising from the streets to owning a saloon and, later, an additional brothel. She is described as being “corrupt to the core”, with her eye only on the money. However, she soon has a change of heart after crossing paths with freedom fighters trying to get rid of the oppressive Dutch rule. For the first time in her life, Chi found something worth risking her life for and is willing to give all she’s got to fight for it.
We had a chat with Joanne Kam on her role as Chi, who gives a glimpse of the character as well as what we can expect from Grisse.
Her Inspirasi: Madam Chi sounds like a real departure from your usual roles. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Joanne Kam: When I got the role, I was very excited. It gave me the opportunity to expand my capabilities into doing something more than the comic relief or the villain. This one had a lot of different aspects to the character. The first time, she looks like a normal Mamasan in a brothel, then you find out that she’s the head of a gangster clan. Then, later, you find out she helps the heroine.
She’s tough, she’s a gangster. However, on the other side she’s also motherly, a great mentor and very loyal to what she believes in. She stands her ground. She doesn’t sway to follow the tide.
HI: Where do you get your inspiration from in playing Chi?
JK: One of the inspirations is the ABC TV series called Harlots. It’s about two big groups of fighting Mamasans that each own their particular brother. I derive inspirations from those characters. However, this is just one of my inspirations. As an actor, you need to make your own character. You have to come out with your own, almost like giving birth to a new person.
HI: What can audiences expect from Chi?
JK: They’ll find that she is resilient, loyal, she is very hard but also kind. She may be loud, aggressive and crass but she really has a very kind and gentle soul. She becomes mentors to riff raffs and tortured souls. Even when everyone is against her, she stands her ground.
HI: Lastly, why should TV viewers watch Grisse?
JK: 1. It’s an Asian production.
2. You have Asian actors, and for the historical storyline.
3. It’s not predictable.
4. For an Asian production that is at the same level as Game of Thrones or Marco Polo. It’s got an Asian feel but also a Western feel “like a Western campur Nasi Goreng” feel to it. It has a lot of Asian inspirations, done in a way that we Asians can be proud of.
Check out Grisse for yourself, exclusively on HBO (Astro Channel 411 or 431 HD), premiering 4 November with new episodes every Sundays at 9pm and repeats on Mondays and Wednesdays.