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Ah Boys To Men (新兵正传) - Review

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Movie Info

Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Joshua Tan, Maxi Lim, Noah Yap, Wang Weiliang, Irene Ang,
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 113 mins
Opens: 8 November 2012
Rating: TBA

Ten-hut, soldier! Or perhaps we should say 'sediyah, yer chao recruit,' given the film in question. Jack Neo's latest film, Ah Boys To Men (Part 1), tackles a topic near (but perhaps not so dear) to the hearts of Singaporean guys: National Service.

Meet Ken (Joshua Tan), your average Singaporean boy who - like every other local lads - dreads having to serve National Service. The mandatory army training disrupts his education overseas, causes his doting mom (Irene Ang) to fret excessively, and is a constant cause of tension between him and his girlfriend. Things aren't all gloom and push ups though: upon arriving in camp, Ken ends up meeting and befriending his section mates, which include such motley individuals as Lobang (Wang Weiliang) and I P Man (Noah Yap).

Let's start with a tekan session: the two biggest flaws of Ah Boys To Men are, paradoxically, its excessive length as well as its sense of incompleteness. The film clocks in at nearly two hours, meanders through its first half, and yet fails to resolve the film emotionally upon its conclusion. Director Jack Neo chooses to end the first of a two-part film in a haphazard, 'to be continued' manner, reminiscent of a TV drama serial. This makes it difficult to call Ah Boys To Men (Part 1) a good film in and of itself, rather than a prelude to a better sequel.

To be fair though, Ah Boys To Men (Part 1) does deliver the trademark style we've come to expect of Jack Neo: well-written colloquial humour, a heartland vibe, and a savvy choice of theme. In all probability, this last factor will account for the popularity of the movie, with the large majority of its flaws glossed over by the warm hue of nostalgia…particularly for those of us who no longer have to suffer through SOC (mwahah to those of you who've yet to enlist).

In terms of acting, the young cast make up for their lack of polish with their energetic performances, and there's plenty of genuine chemistry to be found in their interactions. The veteran actors put in effective supporting performances, and the most hilarious scenes in the movie are in its flashback segments to the NS of yesteryear, and its school of hard knocks.

Ah Boys To Men will be the first local film to be filmed at BMTC Pulau Tekong and to feature extensive support from MINDEF, as well as the first Southeast Asian movie to feature the latest Dolby Atmos surround sound. The film's opening scene also depicts an unprecedented attack on Singapore, a scene that's effective in isolation but which feels jarring in the context of a light-hearted comedy. Mad props, however, should definitely go to the film makers for the sheer amount of logistics involved in making one of the most expensive local films to date.

Technical whiz bang and big budget aside though, Ah Boys To Men (Part 1) isn't thematically groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination; the film is pretty much par for the course as far as Jack Neo films go. It's imperfectly crafted, rough around the edges, and relies excessively on both the nostalgia and leniency of Singaporean audiences… but given its theme of maturation, that may not be a completely bad thing. Let's see if this recruit grows up to be a real soldier in part deux.

SUMMARY: Piques just enough interest for one to want to catch Part 2.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Raphael Lim

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