The Fairer Side of 'Ah Boys to Men'

News flash and yet another Jack Neo film breaks box office records. He is undoubtedly the master in making movies that will sell, despite all of its flaws already mentioned in various forms of media review.

Therefore, I am not going to discuss the already very ‘widely spoiled’ narrative, rehash some of the classic punchlines and jokes or gripe about the obvious ad placements that has been a branch of a talking point of the movie (what’s new?)

Just a disclaimer – I do understand that this is a comedic movie, targeted at past, present and future army boys. It is a movie to educate parents on what the boys actually go through NS – for mothers and sisters to have a peek into the secret island of Tekong. For men to remember the pains of going through BMT.

This is an observation on how gender sexism was unnecessarily used as tools to failed comic effect in Ah Boys to Men. How it played a part in slowing the pace of the movie down and how caused the movie to be thematically inconsistent. For all female characters in the show, they are cookie cuttered into these 4 forms… a little embellished with some of my notes.

1.      Vases/ Hua Ping
a.       Example: The twin sisters of Ken Chow. They had barely said 2 lines in the entire 2 films and I often wondered what their importance in the film. Also, WHY must they be styled to wear the same clothes and the same hairstyle in each take. It seemed to reflect the kinky decisions of the director. They also do not seem to serve to aid in any punch to any humour. Honestly, if the twins characters were to be eliminated from the story all together as it would make Ken Chow’s pampered immaturity be more believable as the only son in a rich family.
b.      The bikini babes in Lobang King’s fantasy. ‘Nuff said.

2.      Unfaithful girlfriends
a.       Examples: Ken Chow’s and IP Man’s girlfriends. Ken’s girlfriend needed to go overseas for studies. She is shown of Ken’s immaturity and moves on. She did good for herself. IP man’s cheating girlfriend – can’t really comment about it as the story didn’t give enough beef whether IP man had been consistent in keeping in touch with her. All I know that it is a farcical spoof of Aaron Tan.

3.      Goods of desire
a.       Example: Female recruits marching past. CUT. Recruits drool. CUT and camera pans marching female recruits. CUT. Recruits detour towards them. CUT. Female unit. MALE GAZE ALERT!!! How about exploring a little in the film how those girls who had signed on the army also help to contribute to defending the country? They too, have to serve BMT. They too, have a story to tell (and probably a more interesting one at that, because they did have a choice to serve the army and they chose this path. Why? That is definitely something worth exploring than the usual pampered kid turn good story.)
b.      Example 2: IP Man’s girlfriend – it feels like she is just a commodity tussled around between Aaron Tan lookalike and IP Man.

4.      Mothering mothers
a.       Example: The Nag & The Ignorant. (Ken Chow’s & Wayang King’s mother). Extreme caricatures of mothering in Singapore. The relationship of the mother & the son should and could have been further explored.

I am aware that these 4 types of farcical female portrayals serve to help contribute to the various humourous situations in the films – but they are by and large, puerile in that effect.

Don’t get me wrong – I had been quite entertained, but not enough. However, these caricatures cheapens the humour and were mostly unnecessary when the boys could be funny enough to carry off. Take a look at Army Daze – they do not need cheating girlfriends to have them learn how to stand up for themselves, or to create humour.

Case in point, Lobang King and his gang getting creative to smoke in camp. Or when Lobang distributing his wares to his mates. Or the recruits scheming ways to get back at Wayang.

One particular tiresome episode is When IP Man’s gf was shown off by Aaron Tan lookalike – she remained silent and passive. I had screamed silently in my seat that she’d done something, anything, to contribute to the humour. She could have bounced off his energy, she could have done more to break IP Man’s heart. However, disappointedly, the fake Aaron in the film just felt even more annoying as the clip of him dragged on and on. The double male gaze did not work for me as well.

Lastly, these caricatures felt like extended versions of “Sh*t ___ say” series found on Youtube. If one is diligent enough – you may also possibly be able to cut out an entire series of such clips. However, this is still essentially a movie, and coming from an auteur and long time filmmaker Neo, I would be expecting each film to get better – and not as amateur and experimental like this series.

In fact, I was more compelled by the relationship between Wayang and Lobang. Their characters’ personalities are genderless – an overarching trait of selfishness and self-preservation, but portrayed in a different manner. It is one that need no female caricature to be explained. They are funny in their own manner of speaking and delivery and need no extra female caricatured poms poms on the side to motivate them to be what their characters should be.

To sum up, I had thought that most of these female roles in Ah Boys to Men were overtly farcical, unnecessary in their contribution to comic effect and lastly, crude. The boys are good enough to carry the comic. As a recognized auteur, I felt that he could have done better. But I guess there has got to be a compromise is making films that sell, than making films that are progressive in quality. Aside, throwing in new technologies such as the K Kopter, animation, and fancy PR-angled “FIRST TIME FILMED IN TEKONG” are not enough reason to make it a “good” movie.

However, look who’s got the last laugh anyways? He’s got the cash and I’m still sitting here, typing out this last sentence with a nary of that amount of cash in my bank. This, my friends, is the everlasting debate of the choice of giving up/losing your creative integrity to money. This could also open up another window to discuss the standard of discerning audiences in Singapore. That is, however for another day as I wrap up this review.

Review by Yiz

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