- A few laughs but nothing exciting happens in S’pore national service film
- Life in S’pore army camp is filled with moralising and propaganda
SINGAPOREANS have defied film critics and come out in droves to make the final part of the two-film series, Ah Boys To Men 2, the highest grossing local film.
The film, in a mixture of English and Mandarin, is filled to the brim with local lingo and humour about the city-state’s compulsory national service for every 18-year-old male. Its propaganda values were clearly seen in the first film.
Director-producer Jack Neo declined financing from the government to make these films but he was given full access to the army’s equipment and facilities. Based on the two films, it looks like he may have sold his artistic soul to the devil.
The first film centred on rich spoiled kid Ken Chow (Joshua Tan), who, after he couldn’t get out of doing NS, often took sick leave to get out of doing strenuous tasks.
His sidekicks were apple-polisher Aloysius Jin (Maxi Lim), Ip Man (Noah Yap) and the real Ah Beng and scene stealer of both films, Lo Bang (Wang Wei Liang), whose ability to provide every imaginable thing you wanted drew the admiration of his buddies and the anger of his supervisors, including tough-talking Sgt Alex Ong (Tosh Zhang, drawing inspiration from characters in An Officer And A Gentleman and Full Metal Jacket).
Part two continues with Ken’s transformation as he rivals Aloysius’ attempt to get into the good books of his superiors, but this incurs the wrath of his buddies, who begin to shun him.
Aloysius’ mates gang up on him and put a big rock in his running pack, which makes him go and cry to his parents in a food court in a mall. His dad (Chen Tianwen) advises his son to do nothing, and in an act of bravura that would have made the audience exclaim “Wah liau”, he uses imaginary CGI jet fighters, planes, tanks and missiles to describe a war scenario.
The film’s first bit of moralising comes when Ken’s dad (Richard Low) suffers a stroke. Ken says: “But his determination (to walk unaided) makes me ashamed of myself.” Ken also buys his dad a wheelchair with his first cheque, which causes the latter to see his son in a new light.
Life in the army camp, meanwhile, is similar to life in other army camps. This film reminded me of Malaysian film Juvana, which is about life in a juvenile detention centre, right down to the tough sergeant.
Neo has to conjure up silly stuff to keep the audiences entertained, so he gets the recruits attempting to smoke more than their allotted amount of cigarettes
In another case, Ip Man wails that some dyed-blond guy, Zhen (Benjamin Mok), has potong jalan and stolen his girlfriend.
Lo Bang gets Ip Man to use an iPad to make a video telling his ex-girlfriend that he’s gotten over her. But Sgt Ong interrupts the process, leading one recruit to hide the iPad in a toilet. Is this supposed to be funny?
Lo Bang uses his leadership skills and whatever army knowledge he’s learnt to lead a faecal bomb attack against Zhen and the girlfriend. Again, dear viewers, is this supposed to be funny?
The six recruits are in disguise during the attack, so I don’t understand why they have to run away from three skinny guys chasing them.
I guess their disguises didn’t work because Zhen and his gang attack the recruits in a restaurant populated by recruits.
Zhen and his boys easily get the upper hand against the young and fit recruits, but the tide turns when outcast Ken returns to help after remembering the dictum made famous in so many Hollywood war films: “leave no man behind”.
The recruits, by the way, failed to post a sentry to look out for reprisal attacks.
The second part of the moralising takes place in the jungle where the recruits are doing their basic military training. When the recruits’ letters from their families are torn to bits, they are crestfallen.
But an army commander reveals that he actually has the letters. He says he tricked the recruits because he wanted to show them that the pain of not getting letters was nothing if Singapore had lost parents and siblings in the event of a war. “That’s why we train, so we don’t have to feel the pain of loss in real life.”
This is not the end of Neo’s heavy-handedness. Ken turning over a new leaf is inevitable and predictable. At the passing-out parade, someone says: “Because of what we are doing, that’s why we can celebrate National Day every year, together.” There’s a bird’s eye view of Singapore’s impressive skyline.
Whereas Ken was the main man in the first film, the baton gets passed around in the second film. He appears occasionally to show that he’s changed for the better. There are a token Malay and Indian in the film, but they don’t do much except to add racial colour to the film.
Life in an army recruit camp is tough, but it must have been tougher for audiences to sit through Neo’s shit fest. While his use of local lingo is rewarding, not much can be said of the characters. They’re mostly there as functional props, so viewers won’t really care what happens to them.
2½ out of 5
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