Looking at Jack Neo's track record for the last 5 years, he's the first local filmmaker with a film off the blocks to usher in the new year. From The Best Bet in 2004, I Do, I Do in 2005, I Not Stupid Too (2006), Just Follow Law (2007, well, One Last Dance was made by Max Makowski at the helm), to last year's Ah Long Pte Ltd, all of them were comedies and the latter films have been instant box office successes with star power delivering its dues. With Love Matters come a different shade of Jack, and risk taking too. He shares directorial duties with another local filmmaker Gilbert Chan (in my opinion inconspicuously left out since it's still billed as "A Jack Neo Film"), and gone against the grain in making a non-comedy as well.
The trailers may have fooled audiences into believing, like the rest of his films, this is a laugh-fest. The funniest bit in the theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found in the film, as are other scenes too. One wonders if they were trimmed for run time reasons (this clocks in very close to 2 hours), but the decisions to have kept whatever made it to the theatrical cut, were strange indeed because they were very tired jokes, recycling some from Jack's past films, and most turned out to be terribly expected, cliche and rancid.
The story's a simple one, running along three arcs keeping all the characters distinctly segregated with little interaction between them. Henry Thia's Bo Seng and Yeo Yann Yann's Jia Li are husband and wife of many years, and they experience marital woes of not being appreciated and witnessing their sex life evaporate. Throw in some male ego-centric anxieties, and that sums up the first arc, a subject matter that Jack had tackled with That One No Enough. Alex Leong plays their son Benny, a nerd who is infatuated with the school belle Jennifer (Natalli). Rehash I Not Stupid Too's mobile phone moments, which is the crucial plot element here, coupled with technology, instead of blogs, to video hosting sites, with a dash of scintillating sex scandal, and there you have the issue of the bedroom voyeurs of today.
The third arc involves Seng's god-brother Jeremy (Jack Lim), a good natured person with a penchant of helping anyone, but harbours a perverse hobby of porn surfing and trawling online sites for, you guessed it, sex. He meets Benny's teacher Ms Wong (Cheryl Lee) when posing as a parent, and struggles to woo the woman of his dreams, while grappling with the hopes of meeting up with his latest online acquisition. This arc had some potential even though it was coasting along the predictable, but got bogged down by an elaborate hoax, and poor delivery, plodding all the way to the end which lacked suspense, was expected and everyone waiting for it to just happen. Precious minutes could have been shaved to pace it tighter, and its Hard Candy / Audition moments just cheapened the story many notches down.
New Moon Abalone is deliciously smooth, is easy to slice, and makes the best ingredient in porridge too. Check out the silky texture of the congee, mmmm.....
Yes, like every Jack Neo film, product placement is very blatant and comes out quite out of the blue, and OCBC continues to be a partner, but credit to Jack, who must have heard the plenty of flak he received for such obvious in-your-face ad moments, that this time round they got toned down. A lot. And gone too were the many satirical moments on local politics which have almost become a hallmark of Jack's movies.
Henry Thia has to date played supporting roles with some of the best speaking lines, but to headline a film, that's something new. While most will associate him with being the comedic dim-wit, he continues his dramatic streak from Money No Enough 2, though of course you shouldn't be looking out for award winning performances. Yeo Yann Yann is grossly underutilized here, being no more than a menopausal "auntie" who has husband issues to settle, no thanks to gossipy friends.
The one who stole the show here, is Jack Lim. And unfortunately I believe many of his comedic moments got left on the editing room floor, which is a pity, because there were glimpses on what he was capable of in the comedic and dramatic department, but alas, his character here, like all the others, are caricatures. The two youngsters in the movie were extremely painful to watch as well, with the lack of charisma and acting ability, that one wished that their screen time would be severely limited. Cameos by Mark Lee who plays a Thai gigolo was a much welcomed addition, and Lai Ming continues to be a Jack Neo film favourite lately, with "Lao Zha Bor" absent despite being featured in some stills.
Production values were surprisingly average at best. While many have chided in the past that his movies looked and felt like tele-movies, I shan't deny that this one reinforces those sentiments. I had no qualms about the quality of the audio, which I suspect a number of dialect speaking moments were redubbed to make it Mandarin-friendly here, until one really awful ADR hack-job of a line spouted by Benny really turned many people off. You can literally hear the bewildered groans in the cinema, and I felt that this corner shouldn't have been cut. Really poor execution again.
Love Matters is far from being Jack Neo's best film, and given his worry of having it rated NC-16, which has its impact already felt when the evening sneaks at a heartland cinema where his traditional fan base hails from, only had it 33% filled, I think it might struggle to make a dent at the box office, which his previous films had done quite effortlessly. Given the economic glum and the appeal for family friendly comedies during the festive season, audiences may vote with their wallets for something a lot more entertaining. I would recommend this only if you really have nothing to watch this week.
P.S. No, New Moon did not pay me a cent to include that paragraph in my review. It is here for illustration purposes only.