Filmmaker Jack Neo opened up about his career as a performer and filmmaker in the latest episode of talk show Hear U Out.
In the two-part interview, Neo spoke about various topics, including his days as a budding performer in school, his job in the Singapore Armed Forces as drama director in the Music and Drama Company, and his journey as an entertainer in local showbiz from his start as the brains behind Comedy Night, that '90s show which launched the careers of comedians like Mark Lee, Henry Thia and Patricia Mok.
During his conversation with host Quan Yifeng, the 62-year-old was coaxed into talking about subjects that touched raw nerves in him.
Regret at not receiving comedy Star Awards
When Quan asked Neo what he thought about the accolades he had received as an artist, Neo regretfully said, "To be honest, I seem destined to win few awards. I did not get the one award that I most yearned to receive: the award for best comedy performer."
Instead, Neo's protege, Mark Lee, won the best comedy performer award in 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003, at the Star Awards.
"I don't begrudge (Mark Lee) his accolades," said Neo. "I just feel sorry that I didn't get them."
Neo, however, did receive local government recognition: the Public Service Medal at the Singapore National Day Awards in 2004 for achievements in filmmaking, and the Singapore Cultural Medallion for achievements in filmmaking in 2005.
Neo attributed his lack of awards in the comedy category to timing: "When I was playing Liang Po Po and Liang Xi Mei, that was the height of my popularity. But at that time, the TV station didn't have the award for comedy performers."
Neo, however, made it to the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes at the Star Awards several times over the years.
Copious product placements?
Later when he began making movies, Neo told himself not to think about pursuing awards as his movies "did not have much artistic value".
"I simply want to tell stories that everyone can understand and enjoy in the cinema, and then, having watched the movie, tell others to watch it. I think that's the biggest accolade for me," said Neo.
Neo responded to criticism that his movies were full of product placements.
"Honestly, it's really difficult to make money from movies," he said.
"If you spend $1 million on production, you need $3 million to break even. You only start earning after $3 million. It's hard to make a profit. That's why many productions are supported by the government. That's why we tend to have more product placements. How would you get a $3.5 million budget, if not from sponsors? They balance the budget, otherwise we'd never be able to make the films."
Neo directed popular local movies like Money No Enough, I Not Stupid, and the Ah Boys To Men series.
His latest film, Ah Girls Go Army, which had a production budget of S$2 million, earned S$1.67 million at the Singapore box office as of 7 February. The movie is also screening in Malaysia and Brunei.
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