Review: Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei // 旺得福梁细妹 (2018)

At the end of the movie Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei // 旺得福梁细妹, director Jack Neo inserts a little disclaimer (though 2 hours late) about how this will be another movie, critics will give a one-star to, but ultimately, you only need one heart (the words 'heart' and 'star' are read the same way in Mandarin) to enjoy this movie. Actually, more like you need to skip a heartbeat to enjoy this movie.

Learning how to 'make' money was an important lesson in the movie

The comedy, timed for Chinese New Year, is to some, a movie that was long due for the big screen, given how popular Jack Neo's tiger-mum character has been in the 90s and thanks to the special Channel 8 Hokkien variety slot, people are spewing the famous Liang Xi Mei catchphrase 伤脑筋 again. I am unabashed about my fanship of Liang Xi Mei. She typifies the naggy, kiasu, purse-string-pulling HDB mother with a penchant for versace-inspired (but badly-copied) fabric prints. Insert her into a motley bunch of anti-heroes like Robert, the risk-taking son (played by Mark Lee), Lion King, Robert's goofy friend (played by Henry Thia,) amongst others and you get an instant formula for laughs. I remember having a good chuckle every Monday night in the 90s.

It is apparent that the movie was not made to be taken too seriously. After all, Liang Po Po, another famous Jack Neo incarnation, appears at the beginning and the end to 'disparage' the movie. Like a variety show, the movie strings together disparate elements of humour, including funny characters, funny kids, some under-the-belt references, some moments of dramatic irony and not forgetting some old-fashioned crossdressing teasing references. In fact, one particular scene has gone viral. It features Lion King handing out oranges to Liang Xi Mei and saying something pretty vulgar sounding, unintentionally of course!

Jack Neo understands the pacing of his own film best and delivers a pitch-perfect staccato-paced introduction at the start of the movie that transitions the audience from the familiarity of the 2-dimensional home set seen on television to a 3-dimensional home set, complete with the satisfaction of seeing what the individual rooms look like. Certainly an opening that made us grin ear to ear.

While money makes the world go round, they certainly form the engine of many Jack Neo movies. Or rather, the lack of money. No surprises when characters like gangsters, loan-sharks, fraudsters, towkays appear progressively in the movie. As tired as they sound, they make a Jack Neo movie go round (applause please for my haiku). Take them away and it ain't Jack Neo anymore. So expect another money scam and another gangster fight in the movie. They looked right in place.

'I think my padding is going to burst!'

What actually did spoil the broth was the introduction of some otherworldly characters, namely the Goddess of Fortune, acted by Cai Ping Kai (aka 'Er Gu') and God of Misfortune, acted by Galdrick Chin. The pairing was injected to serve up classic angel-vs-devil, good-vs-evil battle and banter. Like a guardian angel, the Goddess of Fortune keeps an eye on Robert, takes on various incarnations of people to offer a guiding light. The God of Misfortune simply lays traps. The biggest loophole in the use of this superhuman device?  There was absolutely no need for it. When you have a family of characters like Liang Xi Mei's, troubles will find their way here. After all, isn't the backbone of Liang Xi Mei's comedy, misadventures?

The battle between the gods on whose eye-shadow was thicker

This also points to another flaw in the film that left the audience wanting. Robert's tête-à-tête with the goddess took on a life of its own, leaving the titular character Liang Xi Mei at the sidelines. If one thinks of the traps an aunty like Liang Xi Mei could fall into, the comic possibilities are endless. Let me give you some here...Liang Xi Mei gets influenced into buying BitCoins. Liang Xi Mei falls in love with a Korean boy band and becomes an Ahjoonma fan. Liang Xi Mei heeds the call for active ageing and learns pole dancing. Okay, maybe the last one is too much of a stretch.

With the above, the misadventures of Liang Xi Mei and her family became as sketchy as their weekly studio fixtures, only less funny. If you came looking for a full-bodied, curvily-padded Liang Xi Mei, you will experience some disappointment. But for bonafide fans of Liang Xi Mei, this is still worth a ticket as Liang Po Po hints at the end, there is no sequel.

Review by Jeremy Sing

Catch Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei // 旺得福梁细妹 in all cinemas now.


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