While billed as "A Jack Neo Film", the undisputed commercially successful local director actually shares the scriptwriting and directing duties and credits with other collaborators - Du Nan Xing and Michael Woo (directing), and Boris Boo and Ho Hee Ann (story). If I recall, this movie was made in conjunction with the Yellow Ribbon Project, which encourages the public and employers to provide a chance for rehabilitated ex-convicts.
Watching this off the heels of Just Follow Law, and despite other collaborators on board, this movie undoubtedly embodies everything you can identify with in a Jack Neo film. The regular faces of Mark Lee, Marcus Chin and Henry Thia allows the film to reach out again to the heartlander fans of their successful television series Comedy Night, and it did have decent returns at the box office.
You can't fault the story for having a contemporary cliched plot for the three protagonists. For the film to reach out to the common masses, familiar stories which you hear from the grapevine, or from newspaper reports, are harvested for the back stories of the characters, the issues they face while inside prison, and the prejudice they encounter when they're released.
Mark Lee's Youhuang was jailed for commercial fraud, leaving behind a pregnant fiancee played by Apple Hong (who looked real photogenic at every camera angle) for 7 years. Upon his release, his issue is a rival in love, as well as the connection with a daughter he hardly knows. Marcus Chin's Weiguang is a compulsive gambler, and together with wife Meilian (Lina Ng), they face problems with loan sharks and bad debts (albeit this subplot was already done to death in Jack Neo's earlier film, Money No Enough). Henry Thia plays a good for nothing serial housebreaker Hui, who has to fulfill his dying mother's last wishes. Naturally all 3 narratives will come together, but perhaps only Youhuang's story was something relatively refreshing from a Jack Neo movie angle (i.e. not done before), as compared to the other 2 stories.
There are a few liberties given to the movie, since it's out to support the government's initiative of accepting those with a criminal past. For example, the story assumes that most who go to the slammer are uncouth and dialect speaking (although this is a "Chinese" movie, there are some weak attempts into portraying the multi-racial elements of society, having token prisoners from other races put into the shots of Changi Prison). It goes to show that sometimes Hokkien vulgarities are given the green light, or that dialects are spoken at great lengths, contradictory to the Speak Mandarin campaign objectives, which results in Cantonese movies being dubbed. Of course the more valid reason will be not everyone here speaks Mandarin in their everyday life, and when in Rome, do as the Romans do, otherwise the entire movie would have fallen flat should everyone be speaking in perfect Mandarin.
The main draw of the movie is the first 20-30 minutes (akin to Just Follow Law), where you get to take a look at the main crux of the story. Here, we get to glimpse the internals of our own Alcatraz - the fabled Changi Prison, and having the movie filmed on location, raises its profile. You get to see the cell, the amenities, and of course, the story had to weave in montages of what inmates do on a daily basis, from exercise to studies, and the rooms used for family visits.
Comedy is still sprinkled in this relatively serious movie, and given the seasoned comedians, these are pulled off with ease. There are still ample time given to criticize certain policies of the authorities, like the jab on the casino issue, but again, nothing too critical (still toting the safe line), regurgitating much coffee shop talk. The dreaded caning scene was stripped down to just the aftermath, and turned to comedy instead, which I thought if it was filmed and shown in its full gory, I mean glory, would make a somewhat good deterrence for would be lawbreakers.
And what's a Jack Neo movie without explicit product placement? A prominent sushi company, as well as a regular BBQ pork company were so obvious, as their shops were worked into the sets, as well as a jewellery company providing one "perfection" diamond ring. You might think it's easy for Jack to have worked with sponsors to have them featured in a movie, but in reel mimicking real, he too had difficulties convincing them to be featured in a movie like this.
Expect song montages, and an ending so fantastical, it borders on the absurd to come out with a happy ending (again akin to Just Follow Law), somehow I wish that one day we won't experience anymore cringe worthy, contrived finale, which highlights the inability to end off a movie in believable satisfactory fashion.
The visual presentation is adequate, and at times lacked the sharpness of a digital transfer. Words and titles on the film suffered from bleeding, though the subtitles, available in English and Mandarin, were ok. Audio was decent, though there is no fancy multiple stereo surround sound to choose from, unnecessary for a film like this.
Code 3 DVD from Scorpio East contains some special features, though for non Mandarin/Hokkien speaking viewers, you'll rue at the lack of English subtitles.
The usual theatrical trailer (2 min), scene selections, and photo gallery are included, together with a section known as the "NG Shots" (No Good), where goofs on the set are captured, alongside missed lines and the cast flubbing in their scenes. Included are some scenes which didn't make the final cut. Running at 7min 30s, the bad thing is that everything is lumped into one, so you'll have no choice but to watch this feature from start to end.
The other notable inclusion is the Making Of documentary. At 21 minutes, this is clearly made for television as there are appropriate advertising pauses in between for stations to slot in commercials. It's the usual making of documentary with interviews of cast and directors, and their sharing of experience having shot this film in Changi Prison. Curiously, there are Chinese subtitles included when the interviewees rattle off in English. Nothing fancy, as it ends off with one of the theme songs.