ContactSales: J Team Productions, Singapore (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Singapore, 8 Nov 2012; Malaysia, 20 Dec 2012.
Presented by J Team Productions (SG), MM2 Entertainment (MY), in association with Clover Films, Grand Brilliance, K.Kopter, K&L Entertainment, Neo-Film Media Investment, Sky Films Entertainment, VividThree Productions, StarHub Cable Vision. Produced by J Team Productions (SG), MM2 Entertainment (MY). Executive producers: Irene Kng, Lim Teck, Tengku Iesta Tengku Alaudin, Kenny Chua, William Sim, Dominic Inn, Eric Liang, Sky Li, Tan Tong Hai, "Mang" [Melvin Ang]. Producers: Leonard Lai, Jack Neo, "Mang" [Melvin Ang].
Script: Jack Neo, Link Sng. Photography: Ardy Lam, Chiu Wai-yin, Amandi Wong. Editing: Yim Mun Chong. Music direction: Mo Ju Li. Title song: Tosh Zhang. Art direction: Andre Boh. Costumes: Lynn Yong. Sound: Mo Ju Li. Action: Jimmy Low. Visual effects: Jay Hong (VividThree).
Cast: Joshua Tan (Ken Chow), Maxi Lim (Aloysius Jin, "Wayang King"), Noah Yap (Man Yin Ping, "IP Man"), Wang Wei Liang (Lo Bang, "Lobang King"), Tosh Zhang (Alex Ong, platoon sergeant), Irene Ang (Ken's mother), Richard Low (Ken's father), Wang Lei (Ken's uncle), Justin Dominic Misson ('70s platoon sergeant), Aizuddin Nasser (Muthu Shanmugaratnam), Ridhwan Azman (Ismail Mohammed), Yoo Ah Min (Ken's grandmother), Luke Lee (Jed Heng, sergeant), Fish Chaar (officer-in-command), Alvin Richard (Kenneth Pang, sergeant), Charlie Goh (Meng Aik Hoon), Daniel Ang (Chng Kia Ann), Feng Wen Na (Sun Li Liang), Hanrey Low (Liao Kong Chai), Janson Lim (Sam Too), Rovin Rajenthram (Kumar Krishnan), Biwa Mastura (Maria), Qiu Qiu (Amy, Ken's girlfriend), Chen Zhi Wei, Jacky Chin (reservist soldiers), Li Fey Hui (reservist platoon commander), Nick Shen (Robinson Road commander), Jennifer Lim (mother in family bomb shelter), Ye Li Mei (Macy Jin, Aloysius' mother), Chen Tian Wen (Aloysius' father), Lawrence Kim, Jaz Lai, Ryan Chieh, Bennet Neo, Douglas Foo (CEO reservist soldiers), Thein Jia Jia, Thei Si Si (Ken's twin sisters), Sherraine Low (Mayoki, IP Man's girlfriend), Xiu Ping (IP Man's grandmother), Shawn Galloway (commanding officer), Steven Goh (platoon commander), Wilson Ng (company sergeant major), Bernie Utchenik (western doctor), Justin Lim (Ong, member of parliament).
Ah Boys to Men 新兵正傳
2012, colour, 1.85:1, 108 mins
Directed by Jack Neo (梁智強)
By Derek Elley
Wed, 06 February 2013, 09:30 AM (HKT)
Comedy about army recruits starts gangbusters but loses its sharpness in the second half. Asian events.
Singapore, the present day. Spoiled rich kid Ken Chow (Joshua Tan) has an argument with his girlfriend Amy (Qiu Qiu) shortly before he is due to be called up for compulsory two-year National Service. His father (Richard Low) says he should be proud to do it but his mother (Irene Ang) tries various wheezes to try to get him exempted, including visiting an expensive western doctor (Bernie Utchenik) and lobbying her local member of parliament (Justin Lim), but is unsuccessful. Her younger brother (Wang Lei), who is against it, tells him a story of how, when he was called up in the '70s, a fellow recruit feigned madness and got away with it. Another candidate, Aloysius Jin (Maxi Lim), wants to be the best and get into Officer Cadet School to make his mother (Ye Li Mei) proud. A third, working-class street-wise trader IP Man (Noah Yap), uses his call-up as an excuse to have sex with his girlfriend Mayoki (Sherraine Low). The three, all put into Ninja Company, meet on their first day at the training camp on Pulau Tekong (Tekong Island), as well as Indian recruit Muthu Shanmugaratnam (Aizuddin Nasser). Their platoon sergeant, Alex Ong (Tosh Zhang), constantly gives them a hard time, and especially Ken who hates the army and is always looking for ways of ducking out of things. After two weeks of basic military training, the new recruits all get a day off to meet their families. Ken discovers that Amy wants to dump him, as she is now dating an army officer; she also tells him she's going abroad on the weekend. Back at the camp, Ken tries to fake an illness so he can get sick leave and try to win her back at the airport.
With its spectacular, 13-minute opening, writer-director Jack NEO 梁智強's Ah Boys to Men 新兵正傳 (2012) appears to finally take Singaporean film-making into an entirely fresh, international arena, as well as ramping up Neo's customary satirical comedy to a new level. Thereafter, however, it's immediately clear that the movie is another local affair — basically for the Singapore/Malaysia market, where it's been a sizeable hit — with Neo's familiar ingredients: a domestic issue (here, compulsory National Service), anti-government jabs, pun-laden dialogue that slides between Singlish, Hokkien and Mandarin, parodies of film cliches and, at the end, a large dose of moral lecturing to keep the authorities happy.
For its jaw-dropping opening alone, the film deserves an extra point, as well as for its superior production values: this is Neo's slickest production to date, largely thanks to Hong Kong d.p. Ardy LAM 林國華's camerawork. But after a very funny opening hour, full of sharp dialogue and laugh-out-loud comic moments, the movie loses momentum during its second half, especially when Neo gives rein to his weakest tendency of sappy melodrama and heavy-handed moralising. In Being Human 做人 (2010) he got the balance just about right, and that film was helped by the lead playing of Mark LEE 李國煌 — a veteran of the Neo "family" and still Singapore's sharpest comic talent at portraying local, streetwise characters. In Ah Boys, Lee's absence is sharply felt: WANG Lei 王雷 has a good stab at a Lee-like role, sending up local idiocies in broad Hokkien, but he's only in a few scenes.
The principal comic drivers in the first hour are Irene ANG 洪愛玲, who is terrific as a domineering mum trying to get special treatment for her spoiled son, and Tosh ZHANG 張智楊 (who also composed the title song) as the lads' sarcastic sergeant, Alex Ong. The main quartet of new recruits is played OK by young actors Joshua TAN 陳偉恩, Maxi LIM 林俊良, Noah YAP 葉榮耀 and WANG Wei Liang 王偉良, with Yap the most flavoursome as a streetwise trader nicknamed "IP Man". But it's the subtext to the scenes, rather than the performances themselves, that provides the main comedy: National Service as a metaphor for Singaporean life (getting permission, taking punishment, apportioning blame) and the armed forces as a kind of game that (as the opening makes clear) is kind of pointless at a military level.
As in many of Neo's films, one can sense a sharp writing talent that is, unfortunately, only willing to go to a certain point in its satirical critique, and feels the need to balance every pointed comic jab with a concomitant shoring up of the status quo. Given the superb opening, it's all the more the pity that Ah Boys lacks any real follow-through — though it would indeed have been surprising, given its sensitive subject of National Service. There's still a lot to read between the lines, though, even though it doesn't always end up explicitly on screen.
Horror film 23:59 ２３:５９ (2011) was set among new recruits, and based on a true incident on the same Tekong Island. But one has to go back to ONG Keng Sen 王景生's enjoyable Army Daze: The Movie (1996) for another comedy about Singaporean National Service. Based on a play, that film was more pure entertainment, without any messaging. Ah Boys, which is largely centred on one recruit, Tan's spoiled rich kid who "learns" from his experience, initially aims higher but ends up succeeding less.
The ending is a montage trailing Ah Boys to Men 2 新兵正傳Ⅱ, shot at the same time.