Film Review: ‘The Diam Diam Era Two’ Is as Polarising as Its Fictional Opposition Party
The story continues with Ah Kun, Osman and Shamugam forming a political party C.M.I to contest in the 1988 General Election. The fervant of campaigning has swept up both Ah Kun’s and Zhao Di’s family. As Ah Kun thinks of many ways to garner support, will both families be dragged in as well? Can Ah Kun really win the election?
Director: Jack Neo
Cast: Mark Lee, Suhaimi Yusof, Silvarajoo Prakasam, Richie Koh, Wang Lei, Macy Meixin, Henry Thia, Yap Hui Xin, Regina Lin, Ryan Lian
Languages: Mandarin, English, Dialect, Malay, Tamil
Runtime: 91 minutes
The hotly-anticipated sequel to 2020’s box office hit shifts from a nostalgia-soaked, personable slice of 1980s Singapore to a far more playful plot that promises to be “Singapore’s most sensitive movie”.
There are areas where The Diam Diam Era Two《我们的故事之沉默的年代2》 succeeds over the previous instalment, most notably with more racial representation and by being more plot-focused. However, there is a jarring lack of charm in this sequel as well, packaged in a story that felt far too rowdy for any well-meaning intention to surface.
The Diam Diam Era Two picks up immediately where the previous entry left off. Ah Kun (Mark Lee), the loudmouthed critic of all things government, has launched his election campaign under the banner of political party C.M.I. Together with running mates Osman (Suhaimi Yusof) and Shamugam (Silvarajoo Prakasam), the underdogs must navigate through seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the public front, while dealing with unease on their homefronts.
It is undeniable that the premise of an opposition party contesting against the establishment is and will be exciting for many Singaporeans. The Diam Diam Era Two levies critiques of the government that will be familiar for most. However, the film strives to be more than an echo chamber. It could also be seen as a message on the importance of well-founded and substantiated criticism, rather than on the volume of how they are said.
Ah Kun essentially functions as a caricature of anti-government sentiments with the film’s events leading him to realise the error of his ways. Unfortunately, this approach is sabotaged by how immensely unlikeable the lead becomes when he is at the centre of all the attention.
The character’s brash attitude and unrestrained quips are fun and welcomed in small doses, such as with the previous entry. However, having the film dominated by Ah Kun’s constant fever pitch of overbearing intensity creates both an auditory hell and a monotone story that quickly wears its welcome despite a thoroughly intriguing premise.
Leading a caricature — as probable as he is in our minds — through a story arc as sensitive as one dealing with Singapore politics also takes away opportunities for vital and balanced viewpoints. Although a constant spectre mentioned through fearful conversations and whispers, the dominant party hardly makes a physical appearance in the film.
What is left in focus are the caricatured mistakes of C.M.I, where their fate is seen more as a product of self-sabotage. Caricatures are present in most of Neo’s work but it is here where the use is amongst the most frustrating.
Subplots focusing on how the candidates’ families respond to the campaign are welcomed reprieves, with Neo remaining on the pulse echoing common sentiments shared by Singaporeans. However, despite the large cast, there is a clear lack of perspectives and depth. While Osman and Shamugam remain key characters throughout, their stories, perspectives and agency are largely frontloaded before Ah Kun’s family takes centre stage to wrap up story threads from previous instalments.
With a softened focus on nostalgia, what will make or break The Diam Diam Era Two for audiences will be the acquainted comedic chemistry between Mark Lee, Henry Thia, and Wang Lei. The film’s plot presents interesting dynamics between the trio that will satiate those already familiar. Together, they heartily poke fun at the quirks and tropes of Singapore politics — although the humour might not register as well as it should given the film’s consistently swollen tone.
Armed with the star power and an undeniably thrilling premise, The Diam Diam Era Two will be the film to beat this holiday season. It may also be Neo’s most polarising film out of his recent output. Naysayers of Neo’s work will find plenty to be frustrated with; this is not for them. On the other hand, the film is a clear crowd-winner for Neo’s core audience with a bountiful supply of humour and familiarity.
The Diam Diam Era Two will be screening in theatres islandwide starting tomorrow, 11 February.
Image credits: MM2 Entertainment