There is without a doubt that Jack Neo is one of Singapore's most hardworking feature film director, having more than ten films made in a decade, and like it or not, you have applaud his tenacity at telling stories which cater to the heartlanders, and sometimes getting flak for his movies being a haven for product placement. But like he mentioned before, securing funds for films is difficult, especially in a market as small as ours, and this is something that he had to resort to in order to get his films made. Some may also balk at how his stories tend to be skits pasted together, or complain about the TV-quality of his movies, but I guess the box office response for his movies would more than silence his critics, and unless I'm wrong, he still holds the record for having raked in the largest gross revenues for films that he directed.
So as a prelude to the release of his latest movie Money No Enough 2, which is a follow up (and not a narrative sequel) of his Money No Enough movie released some 10 years ago (he wrote and acted in it, leaving directorial duties to Tay Teck Lock), I thought I should go back in time to watch how he first started with his short films, and the type of stories told, because it's quite hard to track these shorts down, but Sinema Old School had them screened for free tonight.
This was the short that won him the best director award at the Singapore International Film Festival in 1998. One can almost see how Jack is indeed a Jack of all trades, as besides writing and directing duties, he also doubled up to provide the voiceover narration, probably to compensate for the relatively average acting skills of his cast (not the familiar faces we now see as his frequent collaborators).
It tells the story of a company boss Ah Kow, who looks down on his best friend and employee Ah Seng. One day an insult he hurled became the last straw and Ah Seng turns to Sure Die Killers Unlimited for professional hitmen to take out his boss. Since it's a peak period in their business, they had no choice but to send the titular character to serve Ah Seng with a climatic shoot out in a cheesy looking karaoke lounge.
Naturally this is material which is very dated, and a movie of this quality these days would probably not win an award locally. Not to put Jack's short down, but I believe, and he would agree, that local short filmmaking standards these days have indeed come a long way.
Sweet Sweet Sweet / 甜蜜蜜
This is a local spin off on Peter Chan's Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Centered on the love story between Dusk and Money, employees of Seksun. Jack again provides narration for the short, coupled with self-made sound effects, and tells a story that contains his brand of humor which had some genuine funny moments especially when the couple go one up against each other. Again acting is nondescript, and I believe these shorts serve as a testbed for Jack to test out his ideas and formula, with proper casting actually taking a backseat in these experiments.
The Mysterious Murders / 冷血狂人
For those who don't understand the Hokkien language, they might be slightly lost as this short doesn't come with any subtitles. Simply put, it tells of two lecherous friends who are in for a nasty shock, as the audience got to be in the know when the introductory scene before the opening credits set the stage for things to come. As mentioned earlier, if experimentation is what Jack was after, then this short had probably provided him with the opinion of staying clear of horror. Which might be a pity as he had a good eye for a horror piece as seen in the first few minutes of the film. With his brand of comedy in his movies these days, I can only wonder what would his movie be like should it combine comedy with horror... surely not another Men in White?
Made in the 90s and with quality that is very raw by today's standards, probably made worse by being projected through Sinema's high definition projector, Jack's shorts might seem pretty amateurish then, but take a look at where he is now. I guess everyone has got to start somewhere, and a reminder to self would be to just do it, learn and continuous improve.