Jack Neo: My movies are not aimed at criticising the government

Teng Yong Ping
·Lifestyle Editor
·3-min read
Film director Jack Neo (2nd from left) at a press conference on 8 February 2021 to promote the movie Our Stories: The Diam Diam Era 2, with actors (from left) Wang Lei, Henry Thia and Mark Lee. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping)
Film director Jack Neo (2nd from left) at a press conference on 8 February 2021 to promote the movie Our Stories: The Diam Diam Era 2, with actors (from left) Wang Lei, Henry Thia and Mark Lee. (Photo: Teng Yong Ping)

SINGAPORE — No matter what you think about the artistic value of director Jack Neo's movies, they rake in the bucks at the box office.

Neo's last movie, The Diam Diam Era, which screened in theatres from last November, has so far chalked up S$1.62 million dollars in ticket sales, said the filmmaker.

Neo was speaking at a press conference on Monday (8 February) to promote the sequel, The Diam Diam Era 2, part two of a series called "Our Stories". The mainly Mandarin-language comedy stars Mark Lee, Henry Thia and Wang Lei. (Read our reviews for part one here, and part two here.)

A box office performance of under S$2 million pales in comparison with earnings by Neo's previous movies, which have grossed between S$3 million and S$6 million, as theatre attendance has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Neo, the artistic goal of his recent movies lies in their nostalgic value, more so than political commentary. Although his characters often criticise the government, Neo sees his films as artistic projects, rather than a vehicle to question government policies.

As the series title "Our Stories" implies, Neo hopes to depict the story of Singapore throughout historic moments. "I've always felt that Singapore needs movies that chronicle the evolution of Singapore's history, the attitudes of times gone by, and the worries and joys we experienced during those times."

Mark Lee as Ah Kun in Our Stories: The Diam Diam Era 2, by director Jack Neo. (Photo: mm2 Entertainment)
Mark Lee as Ah Kun in Our Stories: The Diam Diam Era 2, by director Jack Neo. (Photo: mm2 Entertainment)

Even so, Mark Lee, who plays Ah Kun, jokingly said that the main character acts as the mouthpiece for director Neo's political grievances in the movie, since he constantly lambasts the government and even sets up an opposition party to contest in elections.

Lee said The Diam Diam Era 2 tackles sensitive subjects during the '80s such as the government's language education policies and its population control measures calling for families to stop at two children.

Neo already has ideas lined up for subsequent films in the series, saying he wants to make movies about the eras under former and current prime ministers Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong.

The director has great ambitions as he said he wants to enter his films for the Golden Horse film awards, since one of his stars, Mark Lee, was nominated for Best Actor at the Chinese film festival last year (the nomination was for another film, Number 1.)

Neo said he already has several film scripts ready, and his team is awaiting production to begin. These films include Ah Boys To Men 5, Money No Enough 3, and a sequel for one of his early hits, I Not Stupid, the latter of which is scheduled to be shot in mainland China. Due to complications arising from the ongoing pandemic, Neo said he would monitor the situation closely before taking further steps.

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