PERFECT RIVALS (Singapore) (2011)

Genre: Comedy
Director: Han Yew Kwang
Cast: Ha Yu, Irene Ang, Mindee Ong, Stanly, Pamelyn Chee, Josh Lai, Michelle Yim
1 hr 35 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: PG
Official Website:

Opening Day: 17 March 2011

Synopsis: PERFECT RIVALS is a heart-warming story about two feuding families and how their relationships become funnily complicated because of an event that happened 28 years ago.

Movie Review:

Han Yew Kwang makes his first venture into mainstream territory with “Perfect Rivals”, and that alone should be news for fans of his indie gems “18 Grams of Love” and “When Hainan Meets Teochew” to cheer about. Despite their limited release, the latter two films have each found their appreciative (even sell-out) audience during their respective runs and positioned him as one of the most promising young filmmakers in Singapore.

“Perfect Rivals” sees Yew Kwang attempt to reach out to a wider audience, and he has here combined his trademark quirky sensibilities with broad ‘mo lei tau’ slapstick. The outcome of this is uneven to say the least, lurching between lowbrow humour that you would expect from a Jack Neo movie and Yew Kwang’s signature witty repartee. This makes for a disorienting viewing experience, and one gets a distinct sense that Yew Kwang is trying hard to straddle between commercial and arthouse inclinations- though most of the time, he doesn’t quite succeed.

The setup of two feuding families bound by history should already be familiar to viewers from countless adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and even our very own local movie “Chicken Rice War” from about a decade ago, and “Perfect Rivals” recycles this premise to establish the rivalry between two bak kwa stores- “Mei Mei Ruo Gan” and “Hao Han Ruo Gan”. Though located just next to each other, they couldn’t look more different- “Mei Mei” is sleekly refurbished in blue and white; while “Hao Han” still looks like what it had been thirty years ago.

Their respective owners, Mei Mei (Irene Ang) and Chen Hao (Ha Yu), share a love-hate relationship- the love hidden from sight, while the hate plainly evident- which goes back almost three decades ago and began as an illicit love affair between the two (Rebecca Lim and Alaric Tay as their younger selves, and with Marcus Chin in a hilarious supporting role as their bak kwa master). While Mei Mei and Chen Hao’s enmity is supposed to be at the heart of the story, Yew Kwang’s script doesn’t give them much to do except fight for the title of “King of Bak Kwa”- which is introduced at the start of the movie, and then pretty much forgotten till the last twenty mins.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of distractions in the form of Pamelyn Chee as Mei Mei’s icy elder daughter and Mindee Ong’s tomboyish younger daughter. The former gets a thankless side story as the single lady getting help from a dating service and meeting a pervert in the process; while the latter gets a thankfully meatier role going undercover as a guy to spy on Chen Hao. There is also Taiwanese singer Stanlyn Hsu as Chen Hao’s autistic elder son who believes he is Superman, and Malaysian actor Josh Lai as Chen Hao’s younger son with an alcohol addiction- either character failing to make much of an impression throughout the film.

You can probably guess that their paths will cross and sparks will fly, and sure enough it doesn’t take long before “Perfect Rivals” becomes “Romeo and Juliet-lite” with Mindee Ong falling in love with Josh Lai. The attraction by the former for the latter isn’t explained until the end, and even then fails to convince. Ditto the friendship that develops between Pamelyn Chee and Stanlyn Hsu, after he valiantly saves her from a vengeful blind date gone wrong.

Yew Kwang’s films have tended to focus rather singularly on the relationship between its two leading characters, with supporting characters kept to a minimum. The sheer number of characters in “Perfect Rivals”, and the need to balance screen time amongst the ensemble cast, seems to have gotten the better of him here. There isn’t much character development whether between the leading or the supporting characters, and these tend to be handled haphazardly- especially the late introduction of Mike, a 30-something year-old guy we are told Mei Mei took in some time ago and who becomes a romantic rival to Chen Hao.

While one may be apt to overlook these flaws with the perspective that this was meant to be a ‘he sui pian’ (before it was yanked from its Jan release date in favour of a less crowded marketplace), it’s quite hard to ignore the inconsistent tone and pacing of the movie. The gags range from the infantile (like Mindee’s excuse to Josh that the bras, panties and tampons in his/her suitcase are really because of his/her perversion), to the cringe-worthy (a cameo by Michelle Yim as masseur Monica Cheng or ’touch your ka cheng’ in Hokkien who is first seen squeezing Chen Hao’s ass), and to the mildly inspired (Chen Hao pretending to practise acupuncture when caught with a needle by Stanlyn whose shirt he was mending).

Its endeavour to tell a heartwarming story amidst the comic inanity is admirable, and recalls the earlier Raymond Wong “All’s Well Ends Well” films- but the jokes here never go beyond slightly amusing, and lack energy and verve. Hong Kong actor Ha Yu is the most hardworking of the lot, while the rest of the regional cast (except perhaps Mindee Ong) pale in comparison, never quite defining their characters even by the end of the film.

Besides being the first mainstream feature by Yew Kwang, this is also the first feature film by A.I. Pictures, a subsidiary of Irene Ang’s Fly Entertainment. While their effort to venture into the risky mainstream film business is commendable, there remains much to be desired with “Perfect Rivals”. One hopes that both Yew Kwang and A.I. Pictures will bounce back stronger soon, because it’s unlikely that this movie will leave the mark that both are certainly hoping it will.

Movie Rating:

(Less than perfect entertainment, no thanks to a half-baked script and silly gags)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. Homecoming (2011)

. When Hainan Meets Teochew (2010)

. Phua Chu Kang The Movie (2010)

. 881 (2007)

. Singapore Dreaming (2006)

. 18 Grams Of Love DVD (2009)

. Unarmed Combat DVD (2005)


Movie Stills