Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Daniel Chan, Xiang Yun, Shawn Lee, Joshua Ang, Cherry Hsia, Loi Fey Huei, Eric Moo, Yan Li Ming, Jacky Chin, Amos Yee
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 mins
Released By: GV & Clover Films
Opening Day: 19 January 2012
Synopsis: Wei Jie and Jian Ren are best of friends in school, and they both face their share of family problems; Wei Jie has a gambling addict father and his mother who does not think highly of him always condemns him. Jian Ren comes from a well-to-do single parent family but has an estranged relationship with his mother. He becomes rebellious to spite his mother and even becomes a runner for the loansharks. They both share the talent and interest on gadgets inventions but their efforts are never recognized. CK, as their lecturer, tries to build a rapport with the boys but ends up being snubbed. His patience pays off and the boys end up seeking help from him for their family problems. CK even help the boys to create an invention for a competition. However, their invention is misused by the loansharks and in an attempt to stop that, CK, Wei Jie and Jian Ren’s lives are at risk.
You weren’t expecting anything more from local filmmaker Jack Neo, were you?
After all, this is the same man who brought you movies like Ah Long Pte Ltd (2008), Love Matters (2009) and Being Human (2010). Let this reviewer state upfront that he isn’t exactly a fan of the abovementioned titles, and that is probably one reason why this he isn’t terribly excited about the bespectacled director’s latest work.
The movie’s protagonists are two rebellious teenagers studying in a fictitious polytechnic. Plagued by family problems, they create problems both in and out of school, much to the distress of a very concerned teacher. Throw in other stereotypical supporting characters like a successful businesswoman who neglects her children, a gambler addict who steals from his family, a loan shark who seizes the opportunity to make use of uninformed youngsters to carry out illegal activities and some very bratty kids, you get a signature Jack Neo movie which will appeal to the masses.
So this Lunar New Year offering is supposed to remind us of the socially relevant issues brought up in Neo’s older works (especially 2002’s I Not Stupid and 2006’s I Not Stupid Too), and truth be told, the television veteran did raise some very poignant points in his earlier movies – but is there really a need for him to be that indulgent to make a 137 minute movie that offers nothing more than the usual melodrama that we have already been getting on local TV?
Characters shouting hysterically at each other? Check. Characters crying their hearts out to an overbearing music score? Check. Characters changing for the better after realising that they have done wrong? Check. Yes, while the script offers nothing different from your nightly family drama, you can bet Singaporeans will lap this movie up, simply because it offers slapstick humour, over the top drama and a happy ending, a sure win formula which Neo has confidently concocted over the years.
The unabashedly commercialised filmmaker knows what his target audience wants, and it is evident from this movie. You didn’t think we have forgotten the product placement, did you? If you aren’t bothered by how a cleaning device, a cable operator and a health product can find ways to shove themselves in your face during the movie, then you wouldn’t have much qualms sitting through the entire picture.
This reviewer isn’t bashing the production, because there were moments when he found himself chuckling at once popular Hong Kong artiste Daniel Chan’s portrayal of the too good to be true mentor, as well as local singers Loi Fey Hui and Eric Moo’s very funny performance of loan sharks. While veterans like Xiang Yun and Jacky Chin deliver fine performances, their characters feel two dimensional.
Shawn Lee and Joshua Ang have come a long way since Neo’s I Not Stupid. There is a natural chemistry between the two young actors, and each manages to hold his own ground with a likeable charisma. However, it is xinyao (a genre of Chinese songs which was very popular in the 1980s) singer Yan Li Ming who steals the show with her very entertaining role as a career woman who has forgotten what it is like to love her children.
There may be no subtlety in this movie, but for viewers who enjoy Neo’s brand of movies, laughter and tears are almost guaranteed. For the rest of us, we can only look elsewhere for an alternative portrayal of living life in Singapore.
(Jack Neo has nothing new to offer here, but why change the formula if it has been working so well?)
Review by John Li