Anthony Chen 'seriously considered' Jack Neo as Liang Ximei to play titular Ajoomma

The acclaimed Singapore director also said he was considering making comedy after emotionally heavy films such as Wet Season and his latest, The Breaking Ice.

Award-winning director Anthony Chen considered getting Jack Neo to star in Ajoomma, a film he produced. (Photos: Reuters, Instagram/jackneock)
Award-winning director Anthony Chen considered getting Jack Neo to star in Ajoomma, a film he produced. (Photos: Reuters, Instagram/jackneock)

They’re arguably the two most prolific local directors but their works and content couldn’t be further apart.

However, might we one day see a collaboration between Anthony Chen (of Ilo Ilo and Wet Season fame) and Jack Neo?

Well, it nearly happened, according to Chen. At an interview on Monday (4 Sept), for his new film The Breaking Ice, he confessed that he considered getting Neo to reprise his iconic Liang Ximei role for Ajoomma, a film he produced.

In response to a question posed by Yahoo Southeast Asia, the 39-year-old said, “You know what? When I had problems trying to finance the film, I literally seriously considered getting Jack to play Ajoomma as Liang Ximei.

“I’m not joking because I was thinking like it’s the perfect lethal weapon. Imagine Jack Neo, Anthony Chen, with Liang Ximei as Ajoomma lost in Korea. I think that version of the film probably would have boxed like five times more.

Ajoomma did really well, and I love Hong Huifang. But, it’ll be a very, very interesting comedic film.”

Despite the missed opportunity (and definitely a blessing), Chen maintained a “never say never” attitude to working together with Neo.

He said, “I think we're very, very different in our sensibilities - in terms of values, in terms of how we see cinema. But you never know; maybe I might get Liang Ximei to cameo in one of my films in the future.”

For the uninitiated, Liang Ximei is Neo’s famous drag auntie character that was featured on the 90s Mandarin variety show Comedy Night.

Making comedy to cleanse the soul?

Chen added that he has been “pondering and considering making a comedy” after making serious and emotionally heavy films like Drift (2023), The Breaking Ice (2023), Wet Season (2019), and Ilo Ilo (2013).

“I feel like because I pour so much emotions into my work, if I continue making films like that, I'm not sure if I'll kill myself in the next five years, you know? So I’m actually thinking of, maybe I need to make a comedy. Maybe I need to cleanse my soul. Maybe I need to lighten up.”

And the award-winning director thinks he can rise to occasion because he’s got a funny bone, even if it’s not as much as Neo’s.

He shared, “I do think I've got humour in me because I always think Ilo Ilo is quite funny. I didn't think so [before], but every time it screens, whether in France or Singapore, whenever I happen to just walk by and listen to the audience, they're like giggling all the time.”

The Breaking Ice opens in cinemas on 7 Sept.

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