One of the largest local entertainment scandals that need not be repeated involved Jack Neo right about after the premiere of his film Being Human, and amongst the rumours that floated around involved the survival of his J Team production house. Well, fast forward to today on the cusp of the new year, it's still alive and kicking, making films the way Jack has done all along, with the director's baton passed to two of his proteges Boris Boo and Mark Lee, each helming their own medium length film that make up The Ghosts Must Be Crazy, rallying the usual long time cast with new additions like Dennis Chew and Chua Enlai.
J Team has always prided itself in producing entertainment for the masses, and over the last few films have put in credible special effects to enhance their storytelling and selling points. It's no different here with each of the films showing off their latest cutting edge (as far as local films go) effects, so much so that at times it's an over indulgence that doesn't propel the story forward, bogging down the narrative just so that the effects pieces can stand out and drawing too much attention to themselves. What definitely worked here is the shrewd casting in pairing Wang Lei with John Cheng in one segment, and Henry Thia and Mark Lee in another.
The Day Off
Director Boris Boo still hasn't gotten over his army daze with J Team, reuniting with Where Got Ghost? stars John Cheng and Wang Lei who continue to play idle reservists who are looking for opportunities to skive during their in-camp training. Chua Enlai plays their Commanding Officer (though only a lieutenant) and recent J Team regular David Bala plays their Encik who becomes the butt of most of the jokes, with Dennis Chew playing a sick soldier who refuses to report sick so that he doesn't have to repeat this last in-camp training (ICT). To the uninitiated, the final ICT marks the end of our obligation to the nation, so whatever you do, you will not want to miss or forfeit this as coming back again another work year.
It is without a doubt that most of the fun come from the two leads, who are at their natural best in their banter, even if some jokes in a smattering of broken English / Singlish, Mandarin and Chinese dialects sometimes fall flat. Army lingo gets thrown around as does the army and Enlai's CO is someone the troops on the ground always love to hate, almost always screaming his frustration off at the idle soldiers under his charge. There's not much of a story here other than revolving around the half baked plans the soldiers have in insisting to frighten off their superiors, and twists come expected.
Bottom line is, anyone having served in the local army will identify with the subplots here, and this is nothing more than being stuck in a field exercise with Wang Lei and John Cheng who prove that this film can be directed by an invisible hand so long as these two are at their element in being loud, brash and shooting their mouths off like loose cannons. Curiously though, this marks Cheng's third outing as an idle reservist, the other being the made for TV production Pulau Hantu, a horror film with unintentional comedy. I wonder how long it will take before a more serious “army” film comes out of the local film offerings, if not always based on comedy, or horror, or an amalgamation of both.
Henry Thia plays the protagonist Ah Hui who is more like a spoof of his character in Old Cow vs Tender Grass. As usual, his Ah Hui is out of luck in both the finance and romantic fronts, the latest hard pill to swallow being his fugly girlfriend (no offense Tay Yin Yin, since this was played up) openly cheating behind his back. As chance would have it, he meets the mysterious Ah Hai (Mark Lee with dual responsibilities in directing this segment) who teaches him about borrowing luck from spirits.
And of course with a little bit of supernatural luck, Ah Hui's fortunes turn for the better, but as urban legends go there's always a price to pay. The story again got bogged down by its scattered focus, and not letting the cat out of the bag, suffice to say that it went overboard with showing off the special effects since it involves the supernatural. With Mark and Henry working opposite each other for the longest time, their chemistry here is unmistakably what sustained the film, especially with the latter half really poking fun at their relationship in a manner still yet unseen on the big screen, which will surprise many, and offer up a load of laughs.
The duo has come a long way since their television debut in the Comedy Night skits on television, and Thia has grown over the years to own the stereotypical characters that he plays, being the leading man nonetheless in a number of homegrown films already. Mark Lee's directorial debut is also without fanfare and unremarkable as well as he didn't rein in the unnecessary portions that threaten to run amok, but still the camaraderie shared between him and Thia serves as the highlight of this segment with a tale that's far more superior than The Day Off. I will also state for the record that Mark Lee's acting here is relatively subtle especially when it ties in to the surprise, and he's clearly one of the more versatile comedians in Singapore, sporting that long hair look that we had last seen in Eating Air many years back. Watch out for his chef character who speaks in Cantonese accented Mandarin in Homecoming next year – his parts in the trailer have been a hoot - which also heralds the return of Jack Neo himself in yet another cross-dressing role.
The “hor-medy” genre is not new, with Hong Kong perfecting the formula with a number of films, one of which comes to mind amongst others is The Haunted Cop Shop starring Jackie Cheung and Ricky Hui of the famous Hui brothers, or even the first Mr Vampire, which succeeded at being both terrifying and funny at the same time, with well choreographed action sequences to boot. As much as the J Team will like to pioneer this horror-comedy genre here, efforts so far still cannot live up to what has already been done in other Asian countries which have stamped their unique mark on the genre. Even Kelvin Tong had Men in White, and we know how that turned out to be. But with a new year comes new hope, so let's see if J Team can propel this forward, especially if it makes money at the box office, then surely we deserve something a lot better.