I Attended the premiere of this film on the 6th of November before I left the country on urgent matters (more on that on another entry) and thought I’d express my views as a slanty but wide eye’d performer from behind cameras of Australia.
First off, I have trained and studied hard for almost a year to fully understand Singlish and Singapore culture and this film was a true test of any how blur or siao I've become (Meaning crazy), so at the same time I will try to explain singaporean stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, it was unlike anything i have experienced before (Though the Asians speaking English local channel 5 comes close).
To describe the film for a western audience is a bit difficult, so here I go... a dramedy action flick on a dialect and local culture overdosed roller coaster. The vibes of the film constantly swings from light hearted family fun, crude toilet jokes, boy-girl relationship drama, over the top humor and flashbacks/historical myths/anecdote cutaways that although well done are really exhausting and take you out of the main story. The film also serves as army documentary parody-ganda, because It makes fun, celebrates and promotes National service, director Jack Neo (yes a name very similar to mine) also made a public announcement that the film received no funding from the government ministry of defense and he had free roam on the story and what it portrays, perhaps this movie is a leap in freedom of speech, as the biggest director in Singapore and if anyone was allowed to make a film about army it would be him.
The film’s main story is about a spoilt and short fused boy, Ken Chow played by Joshua Tan as he transitions into Singapore’s 2 year army training, (which is eventually compulsory after you hit 18 as a citizen, correct me if I’m wrong) hence the title “Boys to men” the “Ah” is just a Asian sentence enhancer/sweetener. Joshua’s performance is rather meh in my opinion, not outstanding as he is supposed to represent the boy next door going army. Ken really shows his temper when he is arguing with his girlfriend, it is shallow but he does it well, however this trait is inconsistent as he is rather docile and indifferent when his parents are arguing about the benefits or pain of National service. This conscription process changes lives because it takes two years of every Singaporean man’s life to an off shore camp at Pulau Tekong where “hopes and dreams die” (Leo - 2012). This leaves more ladies to roam Singapore freely and commonly army girlfriends get into juicy trouble but this is a boy’s story so the female characters like the Ken’s girlfriend played by local blogger Bong Qiu qiu are left rather paper thin, and we will leave it at that. All this shallowness is forgiven because of how unique (at least to me) this film this is armed to the bone marrow and soul with local in jokes, slang and at least 5 dialects, Jack Neo gives apparently his signature infectiously humorous look at Singapore.
Irene Ang Doin' Ya Mom.
There is also a heavy dose of local celebrities like Ken’s Mom, played by Irene Ang, there are probably a lot more celebs that I don’t know, but Irene Ang blows every actor of the film out of the water with her consistently flawless performance of the over protective mother, her humor comes from her over the top out bursts and long winded negotiations/demands at almost every moment of screen time she has.
Technically, I have performed with Irene as she hosted an over the top costume birthday party as poison Ivy with ushers such as me as a bloody mad street doctor. She actually said I was her favorite.
Another nod I can give to the casting is for finding Singapore’s top boys next door types for supporting and featured cameo cast like Maxi lim, Alvin Richard, Aizuddiin Nasser, Daniel Humphrey Kokchun and my first time acting matrep bro Ridhwan Azman as Recruit Ismail, many of these guys I have been on set with before. It is not often I get to see friends on the screen, so I was overwhelmingly endeared and jealous to see so many fellow performers on the big screen.
These “boys next door types” represent the nation’s different races and many army stereotypes types, like maxi Lim as the over enthusiastic goody 2 shoes star recruit, Aizuddiin as the Indian guy, local V-logger Noah yap as the self-obsessed recruit and my favorite Lo-Bang played by Wang Wei Lang, the helmet haired too cool for school contrabands dealer from Sim Lim Square (more on that next paragraph).
Single language Subtitles are for wimps.
It was obvious that the dual English and Chinese subtitlers (all movies have the 2 subtitles in singapore I think) had serious problems translating the sheer amount of jokes and multi-lingual ping pong (heck I can't even remember the names of the characters). For example "Diam" is Hokkien and Teochew dialect meaning quiet and or still, and Sim Lim Square where Lo-Bang is from, is an iconic local computing and electronic goods complex of 6 floors, you have to keep your wits about because it is somewhat dodgy, unfortunately this is lost in translation as it was subtitled as “the school of hard knocks” if I remember.
Some jokes were in Malaysian or Hokkien slang mixed into English and subtitled phonetically (aka. the legendary Singlish) while locals knew what words meant, the best single English word translations were added in brackets to try explain it. I can’t think of an example right now..
When I first heard of this film back in April I was actually auditioning for a featured role and took Ridhwan with me as baggage and encouraged him to enlist and he got the role as in his words a cute Malay boy who has a hard time coping with the training, and boy did it take him to the deep end (more on this guy's story soon). At the time all I knew was it was by Singapore’s most celebrated director but for some reason he does not show up on IMDB, why ah?
On technical notes, the film had a very large frame of 16:9 which I actually prefer to the wide and narrow 2.40:1 that is Hollywood standard. It also has plenty of aerial cranes and helicopter wide shots, which is not so common for Singaporean films apparently. I heard it was shot on a Red probably Scarlet, though I have noticed Image quality drops in some scenes and the codec breaks apart with a lot of noise in the darker scenes. Day scenes however are in breath-taking detail, with vibrant cityscapes exploding, the natural greens hues from the many long fours camouflage uniform and the forest’s CB leaves.
Take THAT HDB Clone apartments
Mild Spoiler alert!
Effectively spammed with good intervals were high frame rate scenes like troops are called to mobilize, a Filipino maid being shot down and when Irene Ang throws her apron into the air… okay probably not the best example.
The most entertaining part of the film is the adrenaline rushing over the top CGI heavy introduction of Singapore under a devastating attack by an unknown terrorist enemy, best described as Cobra in G.I Joe. I was so happy watching this, because so many iconic and accessible Singaporean things blew up in my face like the Merlion, the pan Pacific hotel, local hawker centers HDBS and expressways/motorways, I would worship the filmmaker that would bring such chaos upon Sydney.
But at the same time soldiers were running round making jokes about being fat and not going to training in between civilians getting shot and making fart jokes plus using their bomb shelter as storage space (Apparently they have bomb shelters as a modern home feature, my rented apartment had one I think, we put chairs in there) it was all a bit hard to decide how to feel for the film, serious or humored. The violence and military hardware special effects were generous, slowdowns and bullet time was all in the right place, it was enough to give Michael bay a boner, well it came close enough to me anyway. A peak of these scenes in the trailer was commented on by netizens as looking fake and cheap, who were then counter flamed by popular V-logger/supporting self-obsessed recruit Noah Yap rather crudely, who was then criticized by STOMP (local online citizen journalism of juicy fun news) on his professionalism in doing so rudely, Noah Yap suits his role very well by the way. It was a bit of a letdown that this explosive introduction has nothing to do with the movie though and I saw that seconds into the trailer making it very misleading. I knew Singapore simply can’t afford a blockbuster with city ruins and explosions but still it was long enough to be a devilishly satisfying opening sequence that puts Singapore that much closer to Hollywood standards.
I leave this terribly written review with a GO, GO, GO see this film because it is that unique and a great leap for Singapore film as it has such and explosive opening sequence. Jack Neo has done it again (not that I know how he has done it before) casting everyday people and boys next door with popular you-tube v-loggers (great publicity) makes for a film that is an instant historical classic and milestone for Singapore. For any expat or foreigner in town, swallow the Singlish accent which makes it all seem like bad acting and hop on a rollercoaster of tangential storytelling, and mixed emotions from serious compassion-able drama with lols from fart jokes and over the top witty dialogue in several dialects. At the end of the film I was the only one embarrassingly cheering and clapping, no one else does that in singapore apparently... so don't do that. Boy, just be a man and watch lah, you will enjoy a film like no other sia.
Now to convince the Neo that the 3rd film needs an ABC (Australian Born Chinese) who enlists in NS to make it with his Singaporean Girlfriend who just leaves him anyway. Also I'm confused but if I heard it right they were chanting Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi, at the end of the film.
The above guy is writing this blog. Thanks for taking some time to read it.