Director: Ivan Ho
Cast: Ryan Lian, Wang Lei, Mark Lee, Maxi Lim, Gadrick Chen, Chen Tian Wen, Henry Thia, Kenny Theng, Charmaine Sei, Dennis Chew, Shawn Ho
Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: J Team Productions, mm2 Entertainment and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 26 January 2017
Synopsis: On a venture to turn over a new leaf and break away from their past misdemeanours, Ah Hu and his 3 other cell mates set up a new F&B venture selling Japanese ramen. But being ex-convicts hinder their success and their inability to fit in with society lands them in numerous comical situations. Their clumsiness ultimately causes the business to flounder. Unwilling to give up the good fight and believing that change will bring about a solution, the four friends come up with a new idea; a 3-in-1 tuition center for students that also provides F&B and massage services for their parents. Good times don’t last when Ah Hu’s nemesis, Di Tie kidnaps his estranged son. Having sworn never to fall back to the path of wrongdoing, it’s down to Ah Hu and his friends to save his son without weapons, alerting the cops, and breaking the law. So begins a daring yet entertaining rescue mission.
‘Take 2’ weaves a story of four ex-cons struggling to reintegrate into society – Ryan Lian’s Tiger is a former gangster who took the rap for his boss Blackie (Henry Thia); Wang Lei’s Mad Dog is a serial criminal who has apparently been convicted of every single offence in the Penal Code except for ‘unnatural sex’; Gadrick Chen’s Panther was betrayed by his partner during a robbery attempt; while Maxi Lim’s Jian Ren was a soon-to-be groom convicted of sex with an underage prostitute during his bachelor’s night party – and Tiger’s voiceover at the beginning sums up their collective willingness to turn over a new leaf following their most recent prison stints. It was just last year that K. Rajagopal’s ‘A Yellow Bird’ dwelt on similar themes, and slightly more than a decade ago that Jack Neo had done likewise with ‘One More Chance’, but ‘Take 2’ is intended less as a serious drama on new beginnings and second chances than as a light-hearted dramedy with the same subject matter for the Chinese New Year season.
Co-written with his ‘Ah Boys to Men’ director Neo, Ivan Ho (who also makes his directorial debut here) himself struggles to strike the right balance between humour and seriousness, exacerbated by the blatant repetition of casting a cross-dressing Dennis Chew in a variety of bit roles. There is Dennis Chew as an egotistical ‘auntie’ whose car Panther had leased for use as a private taxi; there is Dennis Chew as the owner of a tuition centre who offers Jian Ren a teaching position without knowing of his past conviction; there is Dennis Chew as the female boss of a ‘bak chor mee’ stall whose quarrel with Mad Dog goes viral; and there is Dennis Chew as a beggar who bursts into church with face shrouded in shadow looking like Jesus Christ, right after Jian Ren rails to God about how his prayers of starting anew seem to have fallen on deaf ears. As much as Chew doesn’t attempt to steal the limelight in each one of these scenes, his presence alone ultimately distracts from the intended message of the stigmatization that these ex-cons face while trying to get back on their feet, even at times trivializing their very predicaments.
Among the quartet, only Tiger emerges as a fully enough formed character that we come to empathise with, especially as he tries in vain to get through to his estranged teenage son Guang (newcomer Shawn Ho) who appears to be following in his younger day’s footsteps. Whereas, Panther and Mad Dog’s presences seem to go not much further than as comic sidekicks, and Jian Ren is (well) almost completely sidelined. It should also come as no surprise that, among them, Lian’s performance is easily the most gripping, injecting some much-needed gravitas into a film that would otherwise come off too lightweight for its own good. Graduating from his scene-stealing supporting part in Neo’s epic period drama ‘Long Long Time Ago’ into the leading role here, Lian also holds his own against veteran actor Chen Tianwen, who sheds his ‘Mr Unbelievable’ persona for a truly menacing villainous part named Di Tie with his own score to settle with Tiger.
Oh yes, as formula would have it, Di Tie (meaning ‘MRT’ in Chinese) – so nicknamed because the scars on his back resemble a map of our MRT lines and because his brain, like our public rail transport, is often wonky – represents the past that comes back to haunt our four flawed heroes. This is just as they are about to make a breakthrough with a new business venture, which combines Tiger’s cooking talent with Jian Ren’s excellent Maths teaching skills and Panther’s entrepreneurial instincts - bearing the film’s titular name, the three-in-one establishment offers tuition services for kids with food and beverage options and massage services for their waiting parents. Indeed, that promising restart threatens to be derailed by Di Tie, who not only exploits Mad Dog (who owes him money he borrowed to feed his gambling habit) to spike the establishment’s water on its opening day but also Guang to frame his father for drug possession, thus culminating in a showdown at a warehouse pier that you’ve probably seen the trailers teased.
Whereas the earlier two acts alternated between comedy and drama, the last adds action into the mix – what with Mad Dog dusting off his former ‘choppers’ inscribed with his former nickname ‘Geylang Mad Dog’ (prompting one of the genuinely funny quips from Blackie that he had ORD-ed from gangster-hood without ‘returning his arms’) and Panther packing a fire extinguisher, a washing basin, a pair of nanchucks and rope to stage an ambush on MRT and his gang. The ensuing mishmash is as discordant as it sounds, vacillating between melodramatic scenes of Tiger fending off MRT’s brutal attack for the sake of Guang and amusing scenes of nerdy Jian Ren transforming into a ‘nanchucks’ expert as well as Panther channeling his inner Bruce Lee. And yet, there is undeniably a scrappy charm to the proceedings, driven by the chemistry between Lian, Wang and Chen that translates into a palpable sense of brotherhood between their characters onscreen.
That ‘Take 2’ proves to be somewhat rough around the edges is perhaps to be expected, given how this is only Ho’s maiden outing behind the camera. His background as a writer no doubt makes his debut feature a lot more narratively coherent than some of Neo’s earlier works, but as a director, Ho seems to have adopted his mentor’s sitcom-ish style despite trying to infuse a more urbane flair with the use of Latin tunes like Gabriel Saientz’s ‘Te Quiero’. As far as inspiring its audience to give ex-cons in society a ‘take two’, ‘Take 2’ isn’t nearly as moving or poignant as it needs to be; but as comedy fare for the Chinese New Year season, there is enough humour, wit and even sheer nuttiness to keep you engaged, if not entertained. Just as how it is not realistic for ex-cons to keep their old ways while starting over, ‘Take 2’ cannot be both goofy and compelling at the same time, so it is no surprise that it ultimately comes off more of the former and much less of the latter.
(Struggling to balance comedy with drama, 'Take 2' ultimately comes off more the former than the latter, but with enough humour, wit and scrappy charm to keep you entertained)
Review by Gabriel Chong