Review - 'Everybody's Business' directed by Lee Thean Jean, executive-produced by Jack Neo

The first thought of knowing there is a new local commercial flick trying to win audience with toilet humour and other shit just sickens the mind. Are we that desperate for box-office success that we need to tickle THAT funny bone? Reading the credits will tell you there are two Jacks involved in the writing of the film – Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organisation and Jack Neo, father of toilet humour (reference: shit bombs in Ah Boys to Men). How they got together may be either a coincidence or a marketing strategy. The trailer seemed like a feature-length exercise in shit puns. Even worse, the toilet plumbing disaster apparent from the trailer reeks of the moralizing we saw in Ah Boys to Men. Naturally, expectations were lowered as I entered the cinema.

Surprise! It turned out to be comfortably entertaining. The cynic in me in helplessly laughed so hard at one point that I felt there is art and intelligence in crafting commercial-film-style humour. While the film dances along to the generous peppering with fecal double-entendres, evenly-spread between English, Mandarin and Hokkien, it is really staying well afloat on a sturdy story arc.

A civil servant, played by Gurmit Singh, is trying to get ahead after being stagnant in his job as a hygiene inspector for too long. His road to success is rocky especially with an unscrupulous colleague, played by Mark Lee, who overshadows him at board meetings. Running in parallel to the story of two coffeeshop owners who are a couple, played by getai veterans, Wang Lei and Liu Ling Ling. Faced with newly-imposed responsibilities from the Ministry of Toilets, they struggle to keep up with mandatory standards and get into a citizen-versus-government clash. Also having a narrative arc of its own is the journey the Minisry of Toilets takes to clean up toilets in Singapore. Together, these stories intertwine as Singapore attempts to clean up its toilet act.

The film succeeds in co-placing frivolous, unabashed toilet humour with rather incisive social satire. The Ministry of Toilets was set up to improve the cleanliness standards of toilets in Singapore. Kumar was delightfully planted into the role of the Minister of Toilets. Stretching the ‘shit-mileage’ were ridiculous scenes like Kumar wanting to go ‘on-the-ground’ to understand the real problem of dirty toilets. So he took a dump in a coffeeshop with the act witnessed by a horde of reporters and common people. Then there was also the anchoring musical number of the movie titled ‘Go in a Rush also must Flush’ – featured as a campaign song by the Ministry of Toilets done to the a mish-mash of Bollywood and ‘Glee-dom’. Think *SCAPE-type kids singing about flushing yr shit like it was a Justin Bieber video.

What the writers of this script have cleverly done is really weave a satirical take on how the government has been tackling hot button issues into the film. Minister of Toilets taking a dump in a public coffeeshop toilet? Some other Minister took a ride on an MRT train to understand the problem of congestion. Annoying campaign songs, videos and announcements? Why do they sound so familiar? Townhall meetings where the civil servants can’t deal with the heat of plebian’s rage and where ‘Enjoy the buffet!’ was hoped as a convenient closure? Not sure about this in reality but ‘Enjoy the buffet!’ sure cracked me up! And finally, an anti-campaign video that goes viral (child YouTube star Dr Jia Jia’s reaction video to the campaign) - almost a mirror of real cyberspace.

Somehow, director Lee Thean Jean has a golden touch to using talents. His debut feature film ‘Homecoming’ saw him meld big-time comedic talents like Jack Neo, Mark Lee, Ah Niu and others into a confidently-paced, cohesively funny road trip. This time, he worked with Singapore comedic giants again, including Kumar, Mark Lee, Gurmit Singh, Wang Lei, Liu Ling Ling, Henry Thia and (for fans of Jack Neo’s comedic entourage) the whole ‘Jack Neo Academy’ of actors including names like Lao Zabor and Muthu, the famous Indian security guard. Though uneven and jarring at times (sometimes, the scenes looked like shouting matches), most of the time, it was a rather palatable cacophony.

Gurmit’s character John Lu (we wonder if it’s a dig at John Lui) was also suitably ‘middle-ground’ to lend some balance in the film. He’s not always funny, it fact seldom. But in his natural and unpretentious style of playing the lead character, he moves the narrative forward beyond ministry follies into the familial brushes, taking the film to a more intimate, personal and less theatrical level.

The final thrust of the story was seeing the country in some deep shit, pardon the pun. This worked for and against the film simultaneously.  The reckless disposing of cement into a sewage pipe has caused sewages to ‘go backwards’. Gasp! One can only imagine the horror of what would ensue and the film was rather graphic too in its depiction of a ‘reverse flush’ (and mostly coloured in brown – yikes!). This puts the Ministry of Toilets into deep trouble and in a manner similar to other national disasters like Singapore’s train stoppage and Orchard Road flooding, we witness civil servants scuttering around in panic, scrambling to ‘account’ to the next higher level, ending up eventually with the Prime Minister on the phone with Minister of Toilets. The stage is set for some heroism from John to save the day which he does and all ends well with Singaporeans more mindful in toilet usage.

Depicting a national disaster was certainly a satisfying payoff to a movie about shit. In the same vein as watch horror or gore or (pardon the example) porn, the viewer hopes to be rewarded for seeing a narrative ‘snowball’ at the end. So indeed, there was enough, er shit, to go around when all hell broke loose.  But the let down is seeing the movie slip into yet another moralizing closure. The beauty of cinema is seeing life through a filmmaker’s eyes, tinted or naked, and being able to own those moments or lessons in our own ways. Do we always need a ‘moral of the story’ ending? With this, I rather remember the Special Toilet Force (in which Muthu, our favourite security guard is part of) as a takeaway from the film. Tasked with making your aim correctly at the urinal and wipe toilet seats, they are omni-present, they literally keep an eye on you (from the next urinal) and they mean business, real business. 

Review by Jeremy Sing 
Jeremy Sing is the editor of SINdie
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