Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Chen Tianwen, Eva Cheng, Tosh Zhang, Wang Wei Liang, Noah Yap, Maxi Lim, Charlie Goh, Bao Er Cong, Celyn Liew Zhi Lin, Ngeow Zi Jie
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins
Rating: PG (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 12 June 2014
Synopsis: The Lion Men: Ultimate Showdown picks up after Mikey (Wang Weiliang)’s and Babyface (Maxi Lim)’s superb performance in the first round of the competition. Shi Shen (Tosh Zhang) becomes jealous of Mikey, especially after he discovers Mikey’s feelings for Xiao Yu (Eva Cheng). More determined to succeed, Shi Shen spends every waking hour in training and neglects Xiao Yu. Even ignoring her efforts to cook a meal for him. As the finals approach, Xiao Yu begs Shi Shen to withdraw from the competition after he is nearly injured in a sabotage attempt. Matters worsen when Xiao Yu is kidnapped during the finals. Shi Shen and Mikey are both torn between the competition and their love for Xiaoyu. Who will step up to save her?
Was anyone looking forward to the sequel following the terribly disappointing “The Lion Men”? Certainly not us. But as commercial necessity would have it, here is the second part of the action comedy duology, which pits Wang Weiliang’s Mikey against his cocky senior Supreme (Tosh Zhang) who had parted ways with their master to form his own lion dance troupe when the latter played by Chen Tianwen objected to his hip hop infusions into the traditional art form. Oh, to make matters worse, there is a girl involved - Master He’s own daughter Xiao Yu (Eva Cheng) - whom both Mikey and Supreme are competing for the affections for.
Picking up right after the events of the first film, Mikey’s troupe (known as the Tiger Crane Lion Dance Association) had barely qualified for a major lion dance competition, directly pitting him against Supreme’s The Storm Riders. As you probably have guessed, writer/ director Jack Neo reserves the finale for the showdown between these two opposing troupes, a clash if you have it between tradition and modernism which is briefly flirted around as an ideological concept but is barely developed. Anyhow, if you’re wondering about this titular ‘ultimate showdown’, our advice is to approach it with the barest expectations, for Neo barely puts in any effort to piece together a coherent sequence that at least looks realistic and is engaging to watch.
Instead, with lights, sound and some quick edits, Neo pomps up the razzle dazzle of the finals between Tiger Crane and The Storm Riders without paying attention to the dances themselves - so much so for getting Hong Kong veteran stunt choreographer Ma Yuk Sing to design the moves. And indeed, one could draw a parallel with that of Neo’s own filmmaking, which is too enamoured with VFX pomp that it can scarcely be bothered with the fundamentals of scripting and directing. Simply put, this is an atrociously made movie, perhaps one of the worst local movies in recent memory - and if we were to be even more cynical, we would go so far as to proclaim it as no more than an attempt by Neo to cash in on the popularity teenage stars that he built with ‘Ah Boys to Men’ just one year ago.
Those who have seen the first movie will tell you - Neo is practically running on fumes here. His story of brotherhood and loyalty is no different from that which he preached in ‘Ah Boys to Men’, but lacking in even the meagre character development of the latter. Because he can’t quite translate the professional rivalry between Mikey and Supreme into something compelling, Neo decides to work on the angle of the romantic triangle, filmed in some truly cringe-worthy, repetitive and even frustrating scenes that has Xiao Yu vacillating between the two guys despite clearly knowing just whom she truly loves.
After having his audience endure some truly cloying moments, Neo subjects us to an utterly ridiculous plot twist ripped from his ‘I Not Stupid’ movie. Yes, if you haven’t yet seen the trailer, Xiao Yu gets kidnapped, which promptly gets Mikey to spring into action to rescue her. Contrived as that may sound, it cannot quite match the CGI-ed dream sequence where the mechanised lion from the earlier instalment gets to fall in love with the Merlion (nicknamed ‘Mer Mer’) in a terrible spoof of the Korean drama ‘My Love from the Star’. There is absolutely no point to that dream sequence, except for Neo to brag that he has yet again tried to incorporate some cutting-edge special effects technology into local cinema - to which our polite response would simply be ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
If the scripting is all over the place, Neo’s direction is no better. Indeed, his strength as a filmmaker has always been his spot-on observations about social issues in Singapore; but the material unfortunately affords him none of that opportunity to exercise his powers of social observations. Rather, Neo’s ineptness is glaringly on display here, as he shows how he is yet able to craft compelling sequences out of individual scenes. What’s worse is how he tries to blend different genres here - action, comedy, drama, romance - into one coherent whole, which only comes off as several disjointed parts melded into one thoroughly unwieldy combination.
The cast, spirited though their performances may be, barely save the day. Tosh is sadly given little to do but play the cocky bastard to Supreme in this follow-up, so much so that one forgets that he had left the Tiger Crane troupe in the first place to assert that there is a need for traditional art to innovate in order to stay fresh with the times. Weiliang is still appealing as ever, though his low-key charm can’t quite match up to that in ‘Ah Boys to Men’ no thanks to an underwritten character. The rest of the actors are stuck playing caricatures, and make an impression that lasts only as long as their scene does.
Like we said in our review of the first part, ‘The Lion Men: Ultimate Showdown’ is even more a letdown considering how Neo had just reached a critical and commercial high with his ‘Ah Boys to Men’ duology. There is hardly enough material here to justify a two-part movie, and what passes off as filmmaking is really a sloppy hodgepodge of different genres and questionable use of CGI. That is pretty much encapsulated in the horrendous new-fangled lion dance routines we see in the finale, which try to meld lion dance, hip hop, rock and acrobatics into one gaudy display of garish showmanship. It’s inevitable this sequel had to be released, but it’s another reminder of an embarrassment we’re pretty sure both Neo and his ‘Ah Boys’ wish to be over and done with sooner than later.
(As messy, overindulgent and underdeveloped as the first part, this is truly one of Jack Neo’s worst moments as a filmmaker)
Review by Gabriel Chong