If memory serves me right, the Singapore film renaissance in recent years only has one film belonging to the horror-comedy genre, given that one of the city's most bankable directors, Kelvin Tong, had his foray with Men In White, performing dismally at the box office. So perhaps it now takes another prolific writer-director in Jack Neo, together with long time collaborator Boris Boo making his directorial debut and sharing responsibilities with Jack, to pave the way and prove that the genre is not box office poison. And the shrewd strategy here is not to put all the eggs in one basket, but to spread them out into Twilight-Zone/Outer Limits type short films, each having a supernatural ring to them.
Starring familiar faces from the Neo Studios/J-Team stable in order to draw in the crowds, Where Got Ghost? continues Jack's track record of collaboration with our neighbours up north seeking a larger market, and the usual complaints that his films look like tele-movies, may no longer hold water. Gone too are the blatant in-your-face type of product placement (with the injection of funds from major studios), as this looks set to position itself nicely in time for the Lunar Seventh Month, and to erase what was the box office disappointment (relative to Jack's multi-million average box office receipts) in Love Matters earlier this year.
In Roadside Got Ghost and Forest Got Ghost, Jack shrewdly puts two of our charismatic actors in each to anchor the short film. Who can rival the evergreen Richard Low when it comes to playing shady characters conversing in Hokkien, perhaps only John Cheng? The former has shown that he's pretty much versatile in roles and genre, and one of his best performances for Singapore cinema had been in Singapore Dreaming as the elderly, old fashioned patriarch of a middle class family. Here he's at his element in the first short playing a bogus priest who discovers a new way of swindling, but falls prey to a similar scheme.
John Cheng revisits his Pulau Hantu reservist soldier role in Forest Got Ghost, about two reservists on a topological exercise, trading barbs with each other as they find themselves lost in a "dirty" forest. Typical of slacker soldiers, they venture off on a short-cut despite repeated warnings from their superiors, and encounters things that go bump in the night. Probably the short in the film that has plenty of wisecracks that army fellas will find pretty amusing, if not for the erratic pacing.
House Got Ghost happens to be the epilogue to Money No Enough 2, reuniting the cast and characters once again to examine the aftermath a year after the events in MNE2. Here, the three brothers (played by Jack Neo, Henry Thia and Mark Lee) get spooked by their deceased mother (Lai Ming), and they decide that since her spirit did not grant them their "get-rich" wishes, it's best that they leave her altar at a temple, in what would seem like a parallel from the feature film. The jokes here unfortunately relied plenty upon what MNE2 had established, though this time seemed to have run out of gas and got delivered in tired terms.
And of course Jack cannot fail to include some moralistic messages at the end of each short, of which you can probably guess for House Got Ghost. As I mentioned earlier, the shorts were probably similar in spirit (pardon the pun) to Twilight Zone/Outer Limits, but the delivery of course needed a little improvement. The storylines were quite expected and the twists for some could be seen from a mile away. None of the shorts were a laugh-fest from start to end of course with some jokes falling quite flat, though it's pretty amazing still how one can feel time ticking by for a series of short film, where some parts of the narrative were played out for too long, and could have been cut off.
Jack Neo had mentioned in an interview before, that he's always willing to try new techniques and especially to incorporate technology into his work. In all his recent feature films, special effects became a staple, although to varying degrees of realism. From the effects now shown in each of the shorts, I dare say that they have improved tremendously, especially scenes filmed against a blue screen which passed off successfully as a photo-realistic backdrop, and the finale for Forest Got Ghost had made me realize that quality special effects aren't too far fetched or out of reach anymore for a local film.
Where Got Ghost? isn't perfect, but as a broad piece of entertainment, it does seem that Jack has found his magic touch again in bringing about yet another crowd pleaser, and probably banished the real ghosts here - the presumption that a "hor-medy" is something that we find hard to accept. Not anymore.