Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Mark Lee, Richie Koh, Danny Lee, Meixin Macy, Henry Thia, Wang Lei, Yap Hui Xin, Regina Lin, Ryan Lian, Suhaimi Yusof, Silvarajoo Prakasam
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: MM2 Entertainment, J Team, Cathay Cineplexes, Golden Village Pictures & Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 11 February 2021
Synopsis: The story continues with Ah Kun, Osman and Shamugam forming a political party C.M.I to contest in the 1988 General Election. The fervant of campaigning has swept up both Ah Kun's and Zhao Di's family. As Ah Kun thinks of many ways to garner support, will both families be dragged in as well? Can Ah Kun really win the election?
We did not think much about ‘The Diam Diam Era’ for many reasons, so by extension, we saw little reason to be excited about this sequel, despite its subject matter. And yet, it wasn’t simply because of our low expectations that we came to be pleasantly surprised by this sharply observed political satire; indeed, ‘The Diam Diam Era Two’ is genuinely a witty, engaging and even poignant film that is probably one of writer-director Jack Neo’s better works in recent years.
At a much tighter 91 minutes, Neo and his usual co-writer Ivan Ho focus on the 10 days of campaigning that Ah Kun’s opposition party CMI find themselves up to in the 1988 General Elections. Political pundits should recognise that the choice of year is not coincidental; it is the year that veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong was first elected as a Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir, and would hold that position for the next 39 years. Though there is a passing mention of it in the movie, the significance is profound.
As is to be expected, Ah Kun (Mark Lee) and his fellow CMI running mates Osman (Suhaimi Yusof) and Sharmugam (Silvarajoo Prakasam) find themselves up against the Men in White in the fictional Gim Wang GRC. Reflecting the struggle any aspiring opposition member would face in contesting the elections, we watch how each of the trio have to overcome the strident objections of their family members, the lack of resources in setting up a proper office from which to coordinate their campaign, the walkabouts and rallies that give them false hope of support, and the inevitable crushing defeat come the night of polling day.
Oh yes, there should be no illusion that the CMI party manages to wrestle Gim Wang GRC from the clutches of the PAP, and indeed Neo waits till the end before inserting a diatribe of how Singaporeans are quick to find fault with the Government but slow in according any form of praise, as well as how the election results prove time and time again that Singaporeans would ultimately opt for continuity over change. That said, it isn’t as if any of the three candidates really have a clear political vision, aside from lamenting how quickly Singapore has been evolving over the years and the consequent loss of the so-called ‘kampung spirit’.
When he is at his best, Neo offers sharp critique of our social and societal behaviours, as seen in movies such as ‘I Not Stupid’ and ‘Just Follow Law’; here, he applies that same perceptiveness to poke fun at our political behaviour – walkabouts at the fish market where candidates must make a point not to clean their hands even after shaking that of a fishmonger who had not washed his; flower garlands not of chrysanthemums but of purple orchids; and our bias for well-educated candidates of at least university quality. Neo is shrewd enough to bury his own criticisms of the Government within, such as the no-dialect policy and ban against election videos. But treads carefully given the obvious sensitivities to avoid incurring the censorship ire of our authorities.
Just as in the first movie, the best bits in this sequel are with Mark Lee, who is front and centre most of the time anchoring the obnoxious and perpetually disgruntled Ah Kun. Lee is as sharp-tongued as ever, delivering Neo’s Hokkien-flavoured witticisms with aplomb and offering just enough nuance to his character to avoid being a complete caricature. Henry Thia and Wang Lei provide good support as his comedic foils, especially the latter as a rival opposition member whose insistence at speaking in English offers much tongue-in-cheek humour. The rest of the ensemble are often no more than glorified cameos, which frankly is a better thing than the bloated mess which its predecessor ended up by giving each character its own subplot.
We’ll admit that we were surprised by how much we enjoyed ‘The Diam Diam Era Two’, not least because the first movie was such a disappointment. With this sequel that Neo has finally found purpose in continuing his ‘Long Long Time Ago’ series, and while we hesitate to call him a political commentator, this movie arguably justifies his creative decision to take the franchise into political territory.
We should add that Neo has left an Easter Egg at the end of the credits, which is a nice throwback to the themes he had explored in arguably his best movie ‘I Not Stupid’ (although bringing back that movie’s lead star Joshua Ang left us slightly uncomfortable especially after his real-life controversy).
It isn’t a CNY movie per se, but Neo’s film offers a happily-ever-after reunion at the end that is as heartwarming as it gets, especially for those who have seen these characters grow up through three feature-length movies.
(Redeeming himself after a disappointing first movie, Jack Neo fashions a spot-on political satire that is sharp, witty, engaging and even poignant)
Review by Gabriel Chong