Quote:Jack Neo takes a gamble on S$3m new film "Ah Boys to Men"
By Han Wei Chou | Posted: 20 July 2012 1516 hrs
SINGAPORE: The word "ambitious" neatly sums up Singapore director Jack Neo's upcoming new film "Ah Boys to Men".
The film, which is made in conjunction with the 45th anniversary of National Service (NS) in Singapore, revolves around the lives of four young men undergoing Basic Military Training and costs a cool S$3 million to make.
It will even be released in two parts the first part in November and the second during the Lunar New Year period next year because of all the content he will be squeezing into the film.
Neo also hopes to shoot a massive scene for the film which depicts Singapore at war that will see "HDB blocks exploding", "tanks in the CBD" and would require sealing off Robinson Road.
The "greatest challenge" in his career
Even though the director's films have historically done well at the box-office his previous offering "We Not Naughty" took in S$2.2 million - Neo confided that "Ah Boys to Men" is quite a gamble and described it as "the greatest challenge in my years of filmmaking".
"In Hokkien, it's 'dua ho, dua pai'," said Neo with a chuckle, explaining that it could either turn out really well or fail miserably.
"If people like part one, it's clear sailing for part two.
"But if people don't like part 1, then part 2
(laughs). It's a challenge. The hard part is to make people want to watch part two after watching the first part."
"Can we do it? Well, we have done our best to evenly spread out the exciting bits across the two films," Neo continued,during a press event for the film on Thursday.
He added that he had little choice but to break up the film into two parts.
"Because it commemorates the 45th anniversary of NS, I have to talk about NS in the 70s, 80s and 90s. We will also have a scene where Singapore is at war. Add all this together and it's really long.
"But the cinemas told us its best to keep films to about 100 minutes in length. If it's too long, the costs will go up and it will be hard to schedule. So we discussed it and decided to split it into two films."
Neo went on to reveal that he had wanted to shoot a film about the NS experience in Singapore, since his days as a recruit in the 70s after watching some Taiwanese films on army life, but he never found the right chance until the 45th anniversary of NS this year.
The director stressed that his film is unlike the iconic 1996 film adaptation of the stage production "Army Daze", and will instead make it a point to "keep things realistic".
"We are the first film to go into Tekong Island (which houses two BMT schools), and shoot there.
"As long as you were trained at Tekong, you'd find the surroundings familiar and recognise the training sheds, the guns, the bunks, everything is realistic," said Neo, pointing out that he had the Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF) full support to shoot the film.
"They lent us the equipment, the fighter planes, the guns
They even had experts on site to make sure the training is portrayed realistically."
However, Neo clarified that MINDEF did not put any money into the film, noting that the film is funded by a few investors and numerous sponsors.
One of the key criticisms leveled against Neo's earlier film "We Not Naughty" was that it contained many instances of blatant product placement.
"Ah Boys to Men" has a lot of sponsors as well. Would it end up becoming an advertising vehicle?
"I think in life, we see brands everywhere. You can't say you don't see Kentucky or McDonald's, even if you buy a pack of rice, there is a brand on the box. We are just reflecting reality," said Neo matter-of-factly.
He also expressed that sponsorship is essential to filmmaking.
"For example, we intend to shoot a very big scene, you could never complete it with just funds from investors, without sponsors.
"Of course if there is a time we can have all the money we need that we do not have to have sponsors, then I will be very happy," Neo said.
"I think the most important thing is to make everything look natural."
His pursuit of a more "natural" feel also extends to his casting choices.
New faces, new blood
Besides veteran actors like Irene Ang, Richard Low and Wang Lei, the rest of the cast is entirely made up of newcomers.
Joshua Tan plays Ken Chow, a rich man's son who finds NS a waste of time in the film, while Maxi Lim plays Aloysius 'Wayang King' Jin, Chow's section mate who wants to become an officer.
Wang Wei Liang plays Chow's other section mate Bang 'Lobang' Lee Onn, a streetwise polytechnic graduate that has an eye for money-making opportunities.
Blogger Noah Yap rounds out the main cast as Man 'IP Man' In Ping, Chow's section mate who is undergoing a breakup with his girlfriend (played by Singapore blogger Qiu Qiu) even as he faces the challenges of BMT.
Prominent blogger Mr Brown and Tosh will also be appearing in the film.
"If we always rely on the same pool of actors, we won't have new blood. There has to be someone who will train newcomers," said Neo.
"Actually, I am setting a precedent. Let people know 'don't just think of those few stars'. They (these sought-after stars) are simply too busy, so we look for new talent, and sometimes they'll (the new talents) give you a pleasant surprise."
Responding to queries on whether he had cast bloggers in his film to capitalise on their social media clout, Neo admitted it was a factor but said it was not the only reason behind his decision.
"Honestly, having bloggers in the cast, it's a win-win.
"Firstly, if they have the talent, why do we want to waste it? Secondly, if they can do publicity for us, why not? They too need this platform to show their talent," said Neo pensively.
"We really don't have to be too hung up about 'using' them for publicity purposes."
link facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AhBoysToMen
Combat in the city
An eerie silence hung over Singapore's Central Business District (CBD).
Arriving at the scene in two Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs), infantry soldiers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were confronted with a disconcerting sight: Shenton Way was in shambles. Vehicles were overturned, and bodies were strewn across a debris-covered road as buildings nearby burned on.
As the troops moved out to survey and clear the area, they were met with enemy fire. A deafening explosion sounded as an enemy projectile hit a taxi the servicemen had been taking cover behind.
cut!" the director yelled, wrapping up one take during the filming of Ah Boys To Men, Jack Neo's latest production.
Soldiers exiting a Terrex ICV to comb an area under enemy attack in the war scene of the movie.
Mr Neo (in white) in discussion with his crew on how to refine the scene while they were in between takes.
Troops taking cover behind a taxi as they come under enemy fire.
A taxi erupts in flames during the fire-fight.
Musuhnya Singapura siapa nanti hayo