Director: Ong Kuo Sin
Cast: Mark Lee, Henry Thia, Jaspers Lai, Kiwebaby, Darius Tan, Kenneth Chia, Gadrick Chin, Cassandra See, Gina Tan
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Rating: NC16 (Mature Theme)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 22 October 2020
Synopsis: Number One is a heart-warming musical family comedy that follows the story of Chow Chee Beng, a middle-aged white collar manager retrenched by his company. After many failed interviews, Chee Beng unwillingly takes a job as a manager at ‘Number One’, a popular drag club. Soon, Chee Beng is roped into dressing up to join the drag queens on stage. And to everyone’s surprise, Chee Beng is a natural drag queen and his performance wows the audiences!
Number 1 proves two things. Mark Lee shows that he is more than a comedian. An incredible versatile actor that is. Two: the movie definitely deserve to be nominated for Best Leading Actor and Best Makeup and Costume Design in the upcoming 57th Golden Horse awards. Does it also measure up to Ong Kuo Sin’s last directorial big-screen effort, the wacky Mr. Unbelievable? The answer is yes if not even better.
Chow Chee Beng (Lee) is a 44 year old General Manager who has been given the sack after 27 years of slogging at a construction firm. With a new baby on the way plus servicing for his monthly car and housing loans, Lee has no choice but to work as an AGM at a pub run by Brother Fa (Henry Thia). AGM takes on a whole new meaning, believe me as Brother Fa’s pub is no ordinary pub, it’s a popular drag club lead by drag queen, Pearly (Kiwebaby張承喜). When one of Fa’s performers turned out to be an AWOL personnel from the army, Chow has no choice but to stand in ..surprise.. surprise.. to wild responses from the audience. But Chow still has one major obstacle to conquer- the blessing from his overly demanding wife (Gina Tan).
The lovable comedy co-written by co-star Jaspers Lai (The Lion Men) and Ong comes at a time when the world is sort of chaotic and uncertain. It exudes so much charm and high spirit that you be sure exiting the hall smiling like a Cheshire cat. Most of the laughs actually don’t really come from Lee himself. He is surrounded by a bunch of spontaneous motley crew including Lai who played Money, a stingy but charitable character, Tiny (an endearing Kenneth Chia) and a bubbly Darius Tan as Italy (一大粒). The rambunctious threesome often entertains with their comical chatter and action which serves as one of the movie’s highlight.
Newcomer Taiwanese Kiwebaby on the other hand plays a cocky performer with a sad past, a civil engineer trained graduate who never gets the family support he needs. Pearly aims high on the stage but when he is overshadowed by Chow who sang with his own voice and heart instead of lip-sync as ordered by Pearly, squabbles and disagreement inevitably arises as a result. At the same time, Chow has to make the decision to stick with the “brotherhood” or risk losing his family.
Number 1 also aims to make a stand on LBGT issues, taking the opportunity to shed some light on the plight of transvestites in Singapore. There is a powerful scene which showcases Money being make fun of by his old schoolmate (Daren Tan in a cameo) and a discussion on the subject of cross-dressing between Chow and his son. However such scenes are few and far, giving viewers more of these might make a far more impactful statement. Educate the next generation instead of shunning them away from such topics.
The casting I would say is excellent. As mentioned, Mark Lee’s sensitive portrayal of Chow Chee Beng is a mixture of comic and realism and that is a seal of his acting ability. His Hokkien rendition of the classic “I Will Survive” deserved a soundtrack on Spotify. Their act dubbed the Queens also wowed with pretty costumes, dances exuberantly to A-Mei’s 姐妹 and sings poignantly to the late Anita Mui’s 女人花. Former Mediacorp actress Cassandra See has a hilarious role as a Teochew speaking triad leader, Sister Phoenix who carries a torch for the cross-dressed Chow.
We strongly suggest Ong Kuo Sin as the next successor to Jack Neo in terms of choosing the next local comedy filmmaker. Ong is too under the radar at the moment and we suggest to give the man more opportunities to showcase his filmmaking talent. Most might brushed him off as a one-off with Mr. Unbelievable but Number 1 certainly deserved some credit for being so heartfelt and humourous.
Similar to the working class comedy The Full Monty, this is equally a movie about social commentary and the resilient of the human spirit. Arguably, the ending is a bit predictable and rushed. Well that’s just me trying to nitpick. There is a mid-credits teasing a sequel. We seriously hope it’s not a drag.
(Mark Lee is a King or you can call him Queen in this crowd-pleasing funny movie from creators Ong Kuo Sin and Jaspers Lai)
Review by Linus Tee