Review: Take 2 // 遇见贵人 (2017)

There is an emerging trend among commercial films in Singapore to be like mini-variety shows or pantomimes in which the fundamental pillars of a good storyline and characters play second fiddle to random celebrity appearances, gimmicks, stunts as well as token drone shots and a touch of crossdressing. All these seem to be pointing to the recent CNY movie Take 2 遇见贵人. It cannot be denied that the film followed this particular entertainment formula but thankfully, Take 2 遇见贵人 has somewhat a credible storyline and some noble intentions.

The film is written and directed by Ivan Ho, screenwriter of Ah Boys to Men, and produced and co-written by Jack Neo. Needless to say, it retains many of Jack’s signature directorial trademarks like the comic language but Ivan gives it a punchier pacing (not to mention a fresh French and Latin beat literally in the soundtrack!). Take 2 遇见贵人 borrows from a premise already familiar with local audiences, ex-convicts trying to re-integrate into society. It seems to mirror the psyche of Jack Neo’s 2005 prison flick One More Chance with a similar ‘band of brothers’ framework. But Take 2 takes away the heaviness and looks at reintegration pains in a more light-hearted way.

Take 2 遇见贵人 follows the reintegration journey of four ex-convicts, namely serial convict Mad Dog (played by getai veteran Wang Lei), Panther (played by rubber-faced comic actor Galdrick Chin), Tiger, who is the narrator as well (played by Ryan Lian who made his big screen debut in Long Long Time Ago) and Jian Ren (played by Maxi Lim of Ah Boys to Men fame). The crimes committed by the first three are as predictable as loansharks appearing in a Jack Neo movie but Jian Ren’s crime of underage sex is somewhat of an accident. It is a shrewd observation by the creators of Take 2 遇见贵人 , that not all recovery journeys will be even, and some ex-inmates bond with certain people better than others. Though they called themselves a band of four brothers inside prison, post-prison, the ‘pai kias’ (bad boys in Hokkien) continue to interact with each other while Jian Ren decides to distance himself and try to ‘sneak’ himself back into the more strait-laced world of the education industry and kiasu parents.

On the side of Mad Dog, Panther and Tiger, there is also the treacherous world of gangsters and unresolved feuds and debts that they have to deal with. The lack of job opportunities drive the ‘ex-triad’ trio to operate a ramen shop in a canteen, taking over the operation from an old lady whose bland-tasting Hokkien mee appeared in a madcap blogger’s ‘Top 10 Disgusting Hokkien Mees’ in Singapore story. Through song and dance and a dozen other gimmicks, they try to win the attention of customers but end up generating more YouTube moments more than real business. Things are also not looking too rosy on the side of Jian Ren as the tuition centre’s parents discovered his criminal background and decided to complain against him. This leads us to the convenient situation of the entire band of four brothers reunited at the ramen shop.
There is no denying that developing full character arcs for four characters is quite a challenge given the time constraints. As the movie stands, only the protagonist, Tiger, has a convincing and meaningful story developed around him. Essentially, he is caught in an offender’s trap. His history with the secret societies is a bad influence for his son and being in prison deepens the alienation between him and his son which leads his son down the same seedy path of getting into gang activities. When he is out, he tries to control his son but his criminal record is an impediment.

Unfortunately, the other three characters appear more as sidekicks. Panther appears more like the token clown in the show dishing up countless slapstick rubber-faced antics. Mad Dog, due to his ‘old dog’ status, had the potential to be a plot driver but ends up being yet another hit-and-run jester. Jian Ren’s background as a teacher, would have been an ideal counterpoint to the world the other three inhabit but his backstory remains undeveloped. The only time the film dedicated to letting us privy to Jian Ren’s psyche was his spiritual pleas at the church. Yet the acting in that scene was hammed up in a such a way that it served to condition the audience for the landing of another joke more than to allow us to understand Jian Ren’s character.

For the gaping holes in the plot, the film makes up for it with a collective of highly-engaging performances from all members of the cast, with some of the best show-stopping moments delivered by characters outside the band of four. Ryan Lian anchors the soul of the film firmly with his sincere performance and a certain moral tenacity as the de facto lead. Galdrick Chin and Wang Lei never fail to give the film a kick in the butt with their comic punctuations when the tempo starts to dip. Maxi Lim, though not given ample room for his acting chops, impressed with his kungfu chops and those mean-looking nunchuck swirls. Dennis Chew proves he will never be a one-hit-pony, I mean, Lucy, with his 6 show-stopping impersonations, which include a flirty tuition centre lady boss, an assertive PRC female noodle seller and God, as the most memorable ones. Henry Thia entertained by being Henry Thia but instead of playing a goofy henchman, he plays the boss now. Finally, one cannot fail to notice Chen Tianwen’s electrifying performance as the big bad triad boss with a wardrobe malfunction, straddling between being menacing and funny.

The film manages to end with a suitably high-octane finale, a final showdown between the band of four and Tiger’s rival gang. Somehow, the scene seems to show that director Ho had it all planned out at the beginning that all roads would lead to this point. On suspicion that Ho is a Bruce Lee fan, this is also like a fanboy tribute to Bruce Lee and his martial arts genre, nunchucks and all. But yet, this is still done within the realm of reason and the plot is clever in using Tiger’s son as the bait that brings the gang to the showdown, hence coming full circle. With the combination of sharp fighting-choreography and comic timing, this segment proves to be rather entertaining. I guess if one expects Take 2 遇见贵人 to be a version 2.0 of the emotional and moral struggles of reintegration seen in One More Chance, one might be disappointed. But releasing this as a CNY movie, I think the filmmakers had a much simpler objective in mind and that objective was met.

Review by Jeremy Sing

Check out our interview with director Ivan Ho on Take 2 in our January 2017 STOP10 article.

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