- An homage (propaganda) to Singapore’s national service
- Boot camps scenes are hilarious but preachy tone gets viewers down
IF your country were attacked by a foreign air force during lunch time, would you joke about it with your colleagues?
Singaporean director Jack Neo poses that question in the first of his two-part film called Ah Boys To Men, an homage to the island-nation’s national service.
The film opens with the attack and invasion by an unnamed country. Neo obviously spent a lot of money on these action scenes, but the air and ground fights are unconvincing, and the acting here is really stilted.
A soldier tending to an injured mate says, “Casualty stable,” but he sounds like he’s ordering a char keoy teow in Bedok.
And when it’s revealed that it’s all a video game played by impulsive and anger-filled teen Ken Chow (Joshua Tan), I could have just lobbed a real grenade at Mr Neo.
However, the writer and producer of this film reveals a deft hand at comedy and I found myself laughing a few times during this English and Mandarin film.
Its highlights are actor Justin Mission, who plays a drill sergeant from the past, and Richard Low and Irene Tan, who play Ken Chow’s parents.
The film’s problems are its fake beginning, contrived romantic ending, preachy theme and the acting of Joshua Tan.
The film’s inspiration is the innumerable boot camps films. It start off with disparate recruits learning the ropes of the regimented lifestyle and coming to terms with losing their individuality (an officer shouts that everything recruits do in the Singaporean Armed Forces, they have to ask permission).
Ken Chow’s buddies in boot camp are apple polisher Aloysius Jing Sia-lan (Maxi Lim), Lobang (which means hole in Malay, played by Wang Wei Liang) and Ip Man (Noah Yap). There is a sprinkling of Indian and Malay recruits, too.
The racial minorities are on the sidelines and don’t contribute to the film. So much for having strength in diversity.
Ken reluctantly joins national service after his mother (the wonderfully funny and chatty Irene Tan) fails to get him exempted from the programme.
He’s more interested in holding on to girlfriend Amy (Qiu Qiu) but viewers know that there will be romantic entanglements later on.
When the inevitable break-up happens, Ken vows that he will resist the army for taking away the love of his life.
Neo’s biggest mistake is making the film turn on this plot twist. Firstly, viewers won’t feel convinced of the relationship between the duo, because there isn’t any to begin to with.
When Amy leaves him at a bridge during a downpour, Ken appears as if he’s going to jump of it. But three passers-by, dressed in raincoats displaying a consultant firm’s name, give him a raincoat and continue on their journey.
The passers-by’s concern is fake, and the crude product display is so out of place.
Instead of sympathising with Ken’s declining fortune (it is, after all, the most distraught moment of his young life), viewers will be more interested in the consultant firm, and wonder where they can get similar raincoats.
Neo drills into viewers that Singapore’s prosperity is based on those who attended national service. He says that while we won’t win every battle in our lives, what’s more important is what we’re fighting for.
As viewers can see, Neo’s talent for humour is matched only by his love of preaching.
Hong Kong’s Jackie Chan, who goes overboard with preaching in CZ12, would have gotten along like fire with Neo.
Life in basic training is no walk in the park, but Neo, however, makes it palatable for viewers. His use of Justin Mission as a drill sergeant in the past is nothing short of genius.
Mission is on a mission to make viewers laugh as his character is hard on recruits, but he also shows us the funny side of life, especially when teaching recruits how to camouflage themselves in the jungle.
3 out of 5
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