COMMENT: Jack Neo may be becoming Singapore's Adam Sandler

Marcus Goh
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Note: This commentary contains spoilers for the movie “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei”.

Audiences watching “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei” may be a little upset to find out that Liang Xi Mei is absent for the bulk of the film. But that is arguably the best part of the supposed comedy film, which came out solely to capitalise on the bored Lunar New Year moviegoing crowd.

The film centres around Liang Xi Mei’s son, Robert (Mark Lee), in a faux Lunar New Year parable about the dangers of chasing after success and wealth. Despite being written as a shallow, two-dimensional, dislikeable character, Mark Lee manages to imbue his role with relatability, comedy, and authenticity. While he plays the stereotypical cheapskate Singaporean, he manages to add a sense of sincerity to the role by connecting it to the material, deep-seated insecurities that we all have. He’s also genuinely funny, which stands out in a film that’s built on cheap laughs and meaningless sight gags.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Is Jack Neo going down the road of Adam Sandler?

In some ways, watching the latest few Jack Neo films makes one wonder if he might be going down the path of Adam Sandler.

There was a time when Adam Sandler was a respected comedian, and appeared in great comedies. Sure, he had a dud or two in the past, but that was more of the exception than the norm.

Then somewhere along the way, he gave up putting in effort into his films. His comedies are mostly critically panned these days, but they are still pulling in his loyal audiences of yore .

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Similarly, Neo is a genuinely good filmmaker and comedian — but the drivel that was “Ah Boys to Men 4” and now “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei” makes it seem like he’s just not putting in effort anymore, choosing instead to cash in on unsuspecting audiences.

Which may explain why Liang Xi Mei is simply not as hilarious as she was 16 years ago.

Liang Xi Mei — loud and unfunny

The character just spews her lines at the camera as loudly as possible. The film starts with a painful monologue by Liang Xi Mei that has her answering questions that she claims everyone wants to know. It even includes a gag about Liang Xi Mei’s signature gaudy outfit.

What’s the gag?  Well, it turns out that she has a whole wardrobe of different green and purple dresses! It’s just that they all have similar patterns and colours, which is why it looks like she’s wearing the same outfit all the time! Isn’t that just a hoot? I can see you chuckling away at the mere thought of it.

No? Not laughing? Maybe it’s because you’re trying to recover from the shrill, grating music that the film repeatedly attempts to shove into your ears. The sound design is just as loud and gaudy as the visuals, so you can imagine the assault on the senses.

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Yes, Jack Neo can do better

The most unfortunate part of all this is that Jack Neo can still clearly do better, and does so in the film itself. Liang Po Po “cameos” at the beginning and end of the film (also played by Jack Neo), portrayed in a manner that’s much less obnoxious and much more subdued than Liang Xi Mei. It’s clear that the film is bookended by Liang Po Po to make up for the awfulness that is Liang Xi Mei. After all, Liang Po Po is a far more popular character. Which raises the question — why didn’t we just get a Liang Po Po sequel instead?

It would have been much less grating to see many, many, many public service messages delivered by Liang Po Po. But what really gets on one’s nerves is that the film probably received some sort of funding (given the stilted, high-handed, textbook nature of its messages) and then later proclaimed how it had grossed $1.04 million over the Chinese New Year weekend as the No. 1 local box office hit.

But then, perhaps it’s all a matter of perception. Perhaps the filmmaker himself believed in the concept, the story, the execution. Perhaps Neo truly believed he was making a good movie.

Disclaimer: Critics will give it 1 out of 5 stars!!!

If so, why was an obtrusive disclaimer (disguised as a joke) tagged on at the end of the movie stating that critics would give it 1 out of 5 stars? Neo isn’t known for his self-deprecating humour, so what’s the true intention for this? It’s about being sore that the previous film, “Ah Boys to Men 4”, was panned by just about everybody.

Thanks to Mark Lee, “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei” garners one and a half stars (out of five stars, just to be as clear and in your face as the disclaimer in the movie is).

But if we were to judge the film solely on the merits of Liang Xi Mei… it’d garner a U for Ungraded .

PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

“Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei” is a Singaporean comedy in Mandarin and a few Chinese dialects.

The film is directed and written by Jack Neo. It stars Jack Neo (Liang Xi Mei/Liang Po Po), Mark Lee (Robert/Liang Xi Mei’s husband), Henry Thia (Lion King/Ah Gong), Benjamin Tan (Albert), Wang Lei (Cantonese Grandma), Jaspers Lai (Merlion King), Cavin Soh (Kway Teow King), Cai Ping Kai (Goddess of Fortune), Gadrick Chin (God of Misfortune), with cameos by Noah Yap (Kidnapper), Ryan Lian (Kidnapper), Yeo Yann Yann (Mrs Fu), Aileen Tan (Mrs Lu), and Irene Ang (Mrs Shou). It is rated PG.

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Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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