Monday, July 26, 2010

Old Cow Vs Tender Grass (老牛与嫩草)

Let's Make Films The Jack Neo Way

The local mainstream movie offering has so far largely experienced the onslaught of Chinese productions, and quite frankly, been nothing but a lacklustre affair. We all know how the Jack Neo scandal took whatever shine's left off his Being Human, and I suppose that didn't deter a key sponsor of the film to try and hedge their bets with another local production, which coincidentally is also a comedy, and starring one of the J-Team regulars, Henry Thia. While the storyline is clearly nothing to do with the sponsor's core competency that got worked into the tale, generous doses of product placement come courtesy of well placed ads, that it's hard to miss.

Interesting to note, there's a growing number of Malaysian co-productions since local filmmakers are after a growing market, and with that level of cooperation comes the introduction of Jack Lim, who's becoming quite the familiar face in Singapore movies, having been involved in, including this one, 4 such productions, 2 of which are Jack Neo in paving the way for such collaborations with films such as Ah Long Pte Ltd and Love Matters, followed by Kelvin Tong's Kidnapper earlier this year. And this level of co-productions continue with PCK the Movie's release next month, and I am not holding my breath to see what else comes next.

Old Cow Vs Tender Grass seems to want to talk about the issue of how older men go after younger ladies, with the prospect whole myriad of reasons tossed up for discussion narratively, and for laughter since this is a comedy after all. However, the actual film is anything but that, using that premise as a hook while the line and sinker delivers something totally different. There's no story, or at least a weak semblance of one created through the piecing of various comedic skits together, some which work, while the majority did not. I felt that with Jack Neo bowing temporary out of the limelight, one will come to expect filmmakers to want to fill those shoes left behind. After all, a "Jack Neo" formula may seem to be the proven platform for box office success, at least in Singapore's context.

But the slapping together of scenes set within a coffeeshop, having working class buddies gather together to bitch about everything from the authorities to whatever's topical, and the sprinkling of Hokkien doesn't a "Jack Neo" type of film make. Here's where you'd probably need to give credit to the guy for being able to craft moralistic (ahem, the irony) stories from what's current, and turn it into mass entertainment. Sure there are topical issues here, such as that of filial piety, foreigners being more hard driven than the locals in holding down two jobs and working long hours, the commercialization and perils of matchmaking and the stigma attached to it, but there's no social commentary, just a rambling of issues done coffeeshop-talk style.

With the Producer Lim Teck and Director Fok Chi Kai combining efforts to work on the story, you'd come to expect more than just disparate scenes put together just so that certain issues can be brought up for the sake of. Some don't even make much sense - such as the one involving what's being lifted from Stomp but inexplicably set in the middle of nowhere Lim Chu Kang - while others seem to pay homage to real life incidents, such as that of a real life cab driver starring GV head honcho David Glass as the article inspired Caucasian, taking opportunity for a support cast of unknowns to tell the whole world of Singapore cabbie surcharge woes.

The comedy here is too localized for this to gain much traction outside our shores, and worse, the film is full of characters who do not engage at any level. Henry Thia's cab driver Moo is pushing 50 and still looking for love, possessing that heart of gold and that unmistakable flair for physical comedy. Taiwanese teenage songbird Crystal Lin plays Moon, a spoilt brat plagued with guilt from a past relationship, who strikes up a friendship with Moo that set tongues wagging as everyone else thinks they're a romantic item. Jack Lim takes on the role of Prince, another cab driver who tackles other taxi-related issues such as the scourge of Traffic Policemen (personified by Ix Shen) and summons, linked romantically to Siau Jiahui's beer-maid from China who's more than meets the eye, but one beer-maid too many as they become that ubiquitous supporting character who all seem to operate on a higher ground than the locals, in having lessons to impart one way or another.

Ah Niu lends a cameo as a priest (Clover Films did release his debut feature film here), and Nat Ho also pops up as a dreamy lover with minimal dialogue. And I pity the dog Bubbles the Siberian Husky, having to tolerate the local heat and humidity and through the high temperatures mistakes Henry Thia for a human popsicle in what would possibly be the funniest scene in the film. In fact, Bubbles trounces many of the cast here in terms of acting ability, screen presence and charisma, which are sorely lacking in its human counterparts, some performances being cringeworthy enough to sour fresh milk.

Opening with a great set of animated credits which was reminiscent of comedy greats in blast from the past fashion, if only there was a stronger story involved here, and a conscious departure made by the filmmakers of not wanting to emulate a "Jack Neo" film, with in-your-face product placements, comedic skits, characters going into discussion mode on topical issues, and Hokkien. Surely our audience deserve much more from films that managed to raise a production budget.

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