Director: Lee Thean-Jeen
Cast: Mark Lee, Gurmit Singh, Kumar, Liu Ling Ling, Wang Lei, Henry Thia, Judee Tan, Aloysius Pang, Dennis Chew
RunTime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures, Scorpio East Pictures and Clover Films
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/everybodysbusinessthemovie
Opening Day: 5 December 2013
Synopsis: “EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS” is a light-hearted satire on Singapore and Singaporeans from different walks of life. When Singapore is hit with a widespread bout of food poisoning – with at least fifty victims – everyone is sent into a tizzy. How on earth could something like this happen in Singapore? And who’s responsible?
How crappy can a movie about crap get? Well, in the case of ‘Everybody’s Business’, you might be pleasantly surprised. Built on the premise of our Government’s hypothetical response should the nation be hit by a widespread bout of food poisoning, this Lee Thean-jeen film may wallow in toilet humour from time to time (think flatulence and excrement), but look beyond the muck and you’ll find a carefully observed satire that riffs on the idiosyncrasies of our political leaders and the public service whom they govern.
As the poster suggests, it begins by the setting up a Ministry specially dedicated to overseeing the cleanliness of our public toilets. Known as the Ministry of Toilets (MOT) and headed by stand-up comedian Kumar as its Minister Kumari Kuppusamy, it counts among its staff Gurmit Singh’s hygiene inspector John Lu and Mark Lee’s Winston Li. John and Winston are meant to represent the bureaucratic machinery of our civil service, from which public policies are sometimes formulated without due consideration of their feasibility.
And so as the MOT goes about cleaning up the state of public toilets, you get the usual rah-rah rally speeches, yet another sing along campaign on the proper postures when using the toilet, stiffer fines and penalties, and not forgetting the obligatory Ministerial visits to show that he or she is not out of touch with the ‘ground’. Something as rational as requiring that coffeeshops hire a ‘toilet monitor’ (i.e. someone to keep tabs on the state of their toilets) is exposed for its impracticality, in particular by Wang Lei and Liu Ling Ling’s husband-and-wife proprietors of a kopitiam.
Both are exaggerated caricatures no doubt of the heartlander, but extremely funny nonetheless; ditto their interplay with Singh’s strait-laced English-speaking public officer John and Lee’s street-smart talker Winston. Lee, who co-scripted the movie with executive producer Jack Neo and journalist-songwriter Ng King Kang, ensures that the actors are firmly within their familiar territories here, so Singh and Lee’s respective roles aren’t that much different from their earlier pairing in the modest box-office hit ‘Taxi! Taxi!’ - and the same can be said of Wang and Liu’s characters.
It’s inevitable that a movie like this will try to appeal to baser audiences with sight gags of (well) poop, but Lee doesn’t stop with the crass. Instead, his perspective on the issues is pretty even-handed - while on one hand it does seem as if our leaders and the people making the solutions at the Ministry level are simply out of touch, the problem is also with the populace whose concerns the former seek to tackle but also whose criticism the former are forced to endure. Lee urges mutual understanding between the Government and the citizen to recognise that there are no cookie-cutter solutions or ‘magic pills’ to most such problems, and in that regard demonstrates more wit than one would expect.
Still, for all his good intentions, Lee isn’t quite there as a filmmaker yet. Playing more like a collection of skits some which hit their mark and some which do not, the movie cannot quite shake off its episodic feel, buoyed and carried only by the strength of its actors’ performances. For better and for worse, it still feels very much like a Jack Neo movie, with both the filmmaker’s inherent strengths and weaknesses in equal measure. It even lacks the polish of Lee’s earlier collaboration with Neo, ‘Homecoming’, trying too hard to pander at times to the lowest common denominator.
That’s hardly reason to dismiss it altogether, as ‘Everybody’s Business’ proves to be an example of admirable intentions but mediocre execution. There are laugh-out-loud moments, there are flashes of wit, and then there are duller moments, cringe-worthy ones even that make this a mixed bag. But as the rare movie that pokes fun at the nature of our bureaucracy (after Neo’s ‘Just Follow Law’), it still is entertaining and perceptive in parts, and not quite the pooper it could easily have turned out to be.
(An uneven mix of wit and crass humour, this light-hearted satire is still worth a watch for its keen observations of Government bureaucracy)
Review by Gabriel Chong