Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Apple Chan, Glenn Yong, Yang Guang Ke Le, Belle Chua, Xixi Lim, Samantha Tan, Charlene Huang, Shirli Ling, Karyn Wong, Eswari, Veracia Yong, Yong Yu, Farah Farook, Vanessa Tiara, Chloe Goh
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 16 June 2022
Synopsis: Sergeant Chow’s actions are misconstrued, but in the face of tough challenges, the girls develop a stronger bond and mature together. Lieutenant Roxanne Tan complicates Joey's relationship with her boyfriend. The girls go through gruelling obstacles in their GBMT journey, which eventually lands them in a dangerous situation and their actions will shock the nation.
As critical as we had been of ‘Ah Girls Go Army’, we stand by every word we had said about that risible movie, which in our opinion, was witless, charmless and pointless. It stands to reason therefore that we would approach the second-parter with trepidation bordering on dread, reinforced by how the producers had avoided screening the movie for media ahead of its general release. Yet ironic though it may be, the rock-bottom expectations established by its predecessor means this sequel is in fact a marked improvement, even if it continues to fall short of the standards of any of the earlier ‘Ah Boys to Men’ instalments.
Picking up right after the “cliffhanger” that Sergeant Chow (Glenn Yong) might be re-assigned after his ill-advised decision to punish the female recruits with a Defaulters’ Parade, ‘Ah Girls Go Army Again’ gets that unnecessary complication over and done with in just one opening scene. In recognition of the effect it has had on the unity of the section, Sgt Chow is given seven extra duties by his Commanding Officer, but is otherwise allowed to remain as Platoon Sergeant. That said, those enamoured with the dashing PS will be disappointed to learn that, until the climax, he has a smaller role this time round; instead, it is the Platoon Commander Roxanne Tan (Apple Chan) whose character gets the more substantive treatment.
Those who recall how the earlier movie had set up 2LT Roxanne as a love rival to recruit Joey Tay (Belle Chua) will probably not be surprised; indeed, one of the more coherent subplots has both women confronting their triple-timing boyfriend over a surprise birthday dinner, with the other recruits lending moral support and Tosh Zhang popping up in a brief but fun cameo. Another smaller subplot has tattooed recruit Chow Ai Lian (Shirli Ling) hiding from the loansharks she owes money to, resolved all too quickly with fellow recruit Amanda Ong (Kelly Kimberly Cheong) flexing her muscles against Mayiduo’s gangster and Princess See generously paying off the debt.
Otherwise, like ‘Ah Boys to Men II’, this continuation sees the recruits go through the beats of the rest of the Girls Basic Military Training programme – including casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) training, field camp, BMT and SIT tests, and the obligatory Passing Out Parade. The gags are as exaggerated as before, ranging from the absolutely cringe-worthy slo-mo Korean drama parodies during CASEVAC training, to the Foodpanda rider who dons an army uniform to perform deliveries for both the recruits and sergeants at night while outfield, and to the unexpectedly hilarious improvisational methods the recruits devise in response to mrbrown’s SIT instructor’s impromptu mission conditions. Not all of the jokes stick, but we can say the sequence with mrbrown is easily the funniest.
That the staging feels haphazard is due to director Jack Neo’s method, which extends not just to how many of the scenes are shot but also the nature of the plotting with his frequent co-writer Link Sng. A good example is how a random news report of a gang of illegal immigrants committing armed burglaries in Singapore becomes the basis for a curious action-packed finale, where the recruits are suddenly ambushed in the jungle during their SIT test by the gang looking to flee to Malaysia, resulting in some fisticuffs and even a knife fight in which at least one of our heroes in green will get injured. Structurally, the plotting is as episodic as Neo’s previous movies, though there is even less coherence on display here than what you’re probably expecting.
It is even greater credit to the cast therefore that their onscreen camaraderie remains just as visible. Whereas the first movie subjected their characters to farcical conflicts in order to play up their differences, this sequel lets them come together as a team as the cast no doubt did during their 50-day production. For this reason too, the obligatory POP does bring a tangible sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even enough goodwill for a follow-up with better plotting and character work.
So despite our significant reservations over ‘Ah Girls Go Army Again’, we must say we did not walk out of it as annoyed and exasperated as we did from the earlier movie. Whilst expectation or the lack thereof is a key reason for that, it is also true that the laughs are better, the storytelling more engaging and the chemistry stronger. There is a cheeky reference at the end to our current Minister for Defence that is signature Neo, and even if ultimately the ‘Ah Girls Go Army’ series is simply a lazy way of continuing the most successful franchise of his career, it is a reminder why Neo’s brand of humour had struck a chord with Singaporeans over the years, and gives hope that there can still be creative genius from the most commercially successful filmmaker of local cinema.
(Far better than its risible predecessor, this second-parter has better laughs, more engaging storytelling and stronger chemistry, even though it still pales in comparison to any of the 'Ah Boys to Men' films)
Review by Gabriel Chong