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Stefan Says So: Ah Long Pte Ltd Review

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I think Jack Neo’s latest movie is hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, the talk about it being promoting Ah Longs (illegal loan sharks). Seriously if that’s the case, then a whole slew of Hong Kong triad movies won’t be able to make it to our shores too, but they do.

So what’s this double standard that we’re trying to apply to Singapore films? If anyone were to have watched the movie, I think they probably had switched off during some of the rather heavy-handed moments of the story where it rants about the demerits of their behaviour, and of course, the inevitable.

Secondly, the much talked about body double that took over Fann Wong’s place just because she had to show a bare back and a butt crack. OK, so there was so big a tiger tattoo that had to be artificially put on, and the excuse given was lack of time. But seriously, it didn’t warrant more than 10 seconds on screen, though if it was not made known, you would be none the wiser. Lastly, the notoriously cruel half-star rating (out of 5) that a local magazine had given the movie, which is akin to saying it’s crap. Personally, I thought that while this was not the best of director-co-writer Jack Neo’s works, it didn’t really justify that half star rating as it certainly had its moments.

Sure you cannot deny the carbon copy of its premise with that of the Korean franchise My Wife is a Gangster, and here we have our very own Fann Wong join the ranks of Shin Eun-Kyung, Zhang Ziyi and Shu Qi as the no-nonsense, hard kicking female triad boss, whose better half is almost incompetent when you put them side by side, hence becoming fodder for laughs. However, while audiences would have gotten their kicks already with Fann playing a member of the opposite sex in Jack Neo’s previous movie Just Follow Law, her role here is more of the same, that she smokes, swears and does plenty of superhuman martial arts.

Her role of Li Hua, with a scar on her face, is the #2 in the Shao He Gang, who recently got promoted when patriarch Chen Jun (Richard Low) decides to retire and pass the baton after a near death experience injures his middle finger. Yes, it’s classical Jack style on display here, and I thought it was a very sly reference and jibe that he made on two key scenes. If you think that he only knows how to poke fun at our local authorities, here he ups the amp from one of his earlier movies Homerun, which had some Malaysia-Singapore jokes, and played out a rather obvious (though I think I was the only one chuckling) jibes at (ex)-politicians up north, whom I suspect the audience there would be able to pick up without a doubt.

But those expecting him to continue a barrage of such jokes, since this was made in Malaysia, would be a little disappointed. Those looking for a laugh a minute experience would be hard pressed to find something that tickles your funny bone. In fact, those who flock to a Jack Neo movie to witness the latest coffeeshop rumblings or social satires on screen will sorely miss those moments in Ah Long Pte Ltd. Here, the focus is more on the drama with a sprinkling of some comedy, together with action sequences spruced up by special effects. I thought it was rather wry to have taken a leaf out of one current rival’s earlier movies, and incorporated it into this movie (ok, it’s Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer), but you have to admit the effects were nicely done, even though they proved to be drawing a lot of attention to themselves. However, while some of the set pieces involving gangsters were built up nicely, it fell on the wrong end of the spectrum again when the action turned out to be a little juvenile and unfunny, some even cringe-worthy as they bordered quite close to the ridiculous (as with the many scenes involving guns).

The supporting cast were a mix of Malaysians and local actors, with auntie Lai Ming playing Fann’s mother who tries desperately to marry off her daughter, and does so with the help of the Lao Zhar Bor (yes, that’s her name again) who was featured in Just Follow Law, as did the return of the security guard from the same movie. Even Richard Low was having a field day with his over the top vulgarity spewing gangster chief, but the somewhat flat lackeys of Soldier Head (KK) and Emperor (Daniel Tan) were up the same alley as the dismal ghostly rappers in Kelvin Tong’s Men in White, bringing nothing new to the table.

The saving grace of the movie? It’s Mark Lee to the rescue, hamming it up as Jojo Fang, the girly man dance teacher, who’s always eager to defend his manhood at every opportunity it is being challenged. I can’t recall in recent cinematic outings that he had actually played an effeminate character (though some may gripe that it’s just another Gurmit Singh character in Just Follow Law, again opposite Fann), but here in his Malaysian-accented Mandarin, he has almost all the best lines in the movie, and delivers his end of the bargain with aplomb, though sometimes the premise of the scene didn’t allow for him to dish out what he was capable of. Naturally, when I go to a Jack Neo movie, the songs are one of the highlights, and here, having it delivered by Mark was a big plus – that song which you see in the trailer, when performed in its brief entirety, was really entertaining.

But alas what could have been a pleasant experience of a Jack Neo production was marred by censorship. Throughout the movie there were somewhat jarring edits, presumably to remove some of the offensive words and dialogue. I suspect that given its content, in all likelihood of an unedited version, would be at least an NC-16 (and that’s just my guess to the currently hazy criteria of the classification system), which would be detrimental to the upcoming box office competition with the likes of Stephen Chow’s CJ7 and Kung Fu Dunk starring Jay Chou. There were some moments of self-censorship though with the use of animation to deliver the final blows of violent filled fights (serving a purpose like in Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li), though that can be warranted as an artistic expression rather than restraining oneself.

Ah Long Pte Ltd departs slightly from the usual Jack Neo formula, trying hard to best fit all the varying ingredients together, and it’ll be interesting to note how Jack would develop his future movies, should this be the point of inflexion in his career, hopefully for the better too. Don’t set your expectations high, as you can definitely find ways that this could have become a better movie than it currently is. Enjoy those moments that work for you, and grin through those that don’t, then come back here and we’ll discuss, ok?

Stefan S is a Singaporean film reviewer best known for his blog, which reviews the good, the bad and the in-betweens.

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