For a first time feature filmmaker, Harry Yap has gone for the jugular in his maiden attempt to write, produce and direct a film starring recognizable household names in Singapore, with the likes of Fann Wong, Richard Low, Patricia Mok and Liu Ling Ling, each of them veterans in the television and film scene. A friend once told me that with the right cast put in place, any film can direct itself, but unfortunately even these seasoned actors cannot perform miracles on what's essentially a very weak plot (if there is one to begin with) peppered with bizarre pacing and having disparate scenes stitched together and stretched to feature length proportions.
Comparisons with Jack Neo's films cannot be avoided. After all, Happy Go Lucky treaded upon the very same themes, techniques and even jokes that Neo employs in his earlier films, from toilet humour, use of Chinese dialects in rapid fire dialogues and word play, right down to the very blatant product placements, which stick up very much like a sore thumb here since it inevitably drew attention to itself, and the usual social commentary that snuck into the storyline, this time being very topical on its anti-gambling stance as well as touching on the opening of the casinos in Singapore.
In effect, what Happy Go Lucky did, was to make Jack Neo films "World Class", for lack of a better description. Production wise this film is not as slick as productions that we'd come to expect a Singapore film to have evolved into, and looks akin to Neo's earlier films - those that would be dated if seen today, for its rough edges. There's no lack of budget here of course, given the star-studded cast, as well as locales reaching out to Cambodia even for the last act, but somehow it forgot about the fundamentals of a good, solid story.
As mentioned, scenes are disjointed from one to another, and worse, some being there for the sake of. There were many areas that could have been edited out, serving little purpose in the film to move the narrative forward. For instance, a scene can be set up just to have a joke run its course. I have to admit though that I was tickled (at the Lim Pei scene - tried and tested formula, but still funny thanks to the charismatic Richard Low) but it doesn't tell anything more, nor serve a purpose other than to elicit laughter. Being a comedy, there are jokes from the onset, but there were a lot more that fell on its face, than to make you laugh out loud, before losing steam as the tired narrative wore on.
Characterisation is ultimately one-dimensional and cliched, riding upon the established personas of its cast in what is essentially another incarnation of the Cinderella story, where Poh Xing (Fann Wong) is the emotionally abused daughter of Hock Lee Poh (Richard Low) and has to endure constant childish chidings from her no-good sister Donna (Patricia Mok). I'm not sure how Fann Wong came to star as the lead here, given her relatively rich filmography which boasts a movie from Hollywood as well. In this film, her role as Poh Xing is whom you'll call extremely lucky, a Calamity Jane on one hand, but yet able to ward off bad luck nonchalantly. Being good natured, we get the point when she's the only one volunteering her time to the senior citizens in her neighbourhood, and when abused, puts her watery, contrived bambi-eyes to good use before switching to her cheery self. If one doesn't know better, it looks schizophrenic.
Richard Low too fell victim of the stereotypical roles that he had played before. In fact if you were to check on how many actors have their screen characters strike lottery, then Richard Low will come up tops, hands down. Or if you want someone to swear in Hokkien with flair and gusto, look no further than this actor. I'm not complaining though as he does what he does best, but seriously, Singapore filmmakers need to realize that he cannot play the same kind of roles repeatedly. His Hock Lee Poh is the perennial gambler who has this miraculous foot reflexology shop run by his daughters and Liu Ling Ling's supporting character, but the amount he gambles away in the film (before the striking of lottery) makes one wonder how the shop had not gone down under since he's spending like there's no tomorrow.
Then there's Patricia Mok, who amplifies her usual uncouth, loud mouthed persona who's man crazy. So far, Mok's roles in films are nothing more than supporting ones for a scene or two, so Happy Go Lucky will mark one of the earliest that she has relatively more screen time devoted. However, with her falling for the usual caricature type as depicted by the script, complete with exaggerated moments which tried too hard, meant that it's another film in waiting for the actress to show what she can really do. Being loud does not equate automatically to being comical.
A number of missteps were made along the way, those that the first time feature filmmaker will try hard to deviate from, but will find themselves inevitably filming Singapore fit for a touristy video. Watching the film is like suffering from multiple personality disorder, at one moment dwelling on something, and the next suddenly shifting gears to talk about something else. It's one thing featuring events like the karaoke bar visit in the film, but another when it's easily misconstrued to be a showy platform from a moral high ground. What's even more peculiar is the featuring of a real geomancer in the last act, and it became something like an instructional video on gambling How Tos, Dos and Don'ts.
The inexperience in pacing a film shows as it goes the roundabout way to get any point through, but Yap's experience with television meant that support from the medium came in the form on roping in familiar faces for supporting and cameo roles. An average film at best, and it'll definitely have to rely on the deities featured to try and bring in box office wealth. Wait for the DVD will be my advise, if you're really dying to see this.