Money No Enough or Money Not Enough - my ignorant views


I never get it right between the 2 - whether it is the ultra `cannot-make-it' English `Money No Enough' or the standard Singlish `Money Not Enough'. Upon checking, it is the cannot-make-it one, a version more friendly with Channel 8 audiences. The first time I watched it was many years ago. I watched with my mother and that was her last trip to the public cinema. Money No Enough 2 was again watched with my mother. That was her first trip to the cinema after a 10 over year hiatus. The only draw I guess for her is Jack Neo really knows what heartlanders talk about to an extent that eludes the rest of the local filmmakers who try to do HDB movies. This time he touches on 2 main topics - pyramid selling and ageing,amnesic mothers. That is of course on top of the blood of the movie - $$$
3 brothers live in materialistic Singapore, one of whom (Henry Thia) at the beginning is struggluing to get ahead while he younger brothers (Jack Neo and Mark Lee) have found some semblance of success in their lives. Jack Neo, pot-bellied, double-chinned, trades property, Mark Lee is a sales leader who holds his microphone on stage without any sweat. He sells Bee Pollen powder, apparently a wonder health product. Henry (still playing the under-achiever after these years) is just lowly employee who got tacky vouchers for his long service award. And so the story goes.... Henry gets invited by his brother to one of the OTT OPP - over-the-top `opportunity presentation' (an industry term). Folding arms in skepticism at first, he soon joins the crowd in chanting `I want to make money!'. Then the journey begins.
I think the biggest success of the story was really turning the spotlights at the most dramatic highs and lows of the typical MLM (multi-level marketing) business. I have been a member before, so I thick Jack's hit it right on the nail. Emptying the wallets of everyone else around you to buy yourself a `managerial' position must be a story heard numerous times in the context of this business. And the pyramidal structure of it was a effective and pertinent way to get all the characters involved and intertwined in the story....just like how personal relationships and business too often gets intertwined in the MLM business. I laughed at Henry's first success rally, where black tie glamour mixes with Taiwanese style drama all draped in motherly love. Then of course, there must be that Andrea De Cruz style health scandal where people get into some literal shit for consuimg the products. Very unforgettably, there was the inimitable Ah Nan, the maverick downline of Mark. Named like a spoof of Edison Chen's Chinese name and a reference to faeces, Chen Guan Sai, he certainly brings more s$%^ into the business than prosperity. My stomach was clenched in laughter when at the roguish ways he peddled the pollen powder, citing relatives of Taiwanese and American political leaders as the product testimonials (when none of it is true).
While Jack's profound understanding of the subject matter and the complications involved makes him to best person in Singapore to tell this story, (Incidentally, I saw Jack speaking in a real success rally of an MLM company) it could be more selective and succinct to achieve greater dramatic emphasis. It seemed like a sincere attempt to cover more ground (which a wide understanding of the subject) than to plough it. Despite that, his characters actually live beyond 2 dimensions though screen time had to be divided over 5-6 characters. Logically arguing, I think because there is a bit of the actors' real selves in each of the characters and most of us are already familiar with them. From one movie to the other, Henry Thia is simply morphing from blur-convict, to blur-gangster to blur-manager (or `manyzer' as he spells it).

The second half of the movie centres on the increasing amnesic mother of the three brothers. Played to perfection by a veteran Malaysian actress. Her face is unmissable as it is very `hampu' (Hokkien for big and puffy). Incidentally, the word popped up when she mispronounced `harmful' as `hampu'. Scrapped of her rubber-band bundled savings by her own children, she silently puts up with all their misdeeds. Almost symptomatic to her plight, she develops amnesia and makes life a lot tougher than it has already been for the 3 brothers. And also another barrel of jokes for us. Mostly the amnesia ones. The classic was Mother waking up in the middle of the night to ask Mark Lee to look for her red bra (lol). Only to find it resting on...er...her.... assets.
Of direct relevance to our lives was the nomadic life of the mother who had to shift house so each brother could take turns to take care of her. Eventually, the balancing rope had to give way and the this resulted in possibly the most tear-worthy scene - the journey to the old age home. Again, analysing the treatment and perhaps even his other films about loan sharks, Ah sohs, school kids and civil servants, the subject research is seamless. Theatrics and tacky mise-en-scenes aside, there is something very respectable about the avoidance of sensationalising the subject matter. There is really no need to make HDB dwelling look like ghettos. It just about telling a story in this case. But this is not applicable to all his hits. We all have been taken for cheap rides before! The cheapest being I am not stupid 2.
While it was all beginning to look like a well thought plot, somehow, the demons of habit and commercialism had to rear their ugly heads. The theatrics culminated in a concoction of strong cheese with sambal belachan and vinegar (for tears). It was so spicy that I choked on my popcorn while my mum next to me choked on her tear-drenched tissue paper. For the sake of a good update on today's social issues, this one movie does the job. So I withhold the ending here for your viewing pleasure. But it's always frustrating to know how Jack Neo can be so brilliant in his ideas but sloppy in his treatment. Jack Neo can reinvent. He did it with Money No Enough 1 in 1997. Why is it so difficult to put the old golden goose aside and breed a different one?

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