Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lelio Popo

Senior Citizen DJs

The Malaysia-Singapore connection in filmmaking continues well into this year, as far as co-productions go with cast and crew crossing both sides of the Causeway to contribute in each other's ventures, and curiously almost, if not all, are comedies. Homecoming and Perfect Rivals will hit the screens here in subsequent months to come, and Lelio (a colloquial for Radio) Popo fires the first salvo to open the new year with a comedy starring real life popular Malaysian DJs KK and Luke about obnoxious DJs who have to pretend to be elderly DJs to stuff their ricebowls.

Jiang Man Da (KK) and Lu Ye Chang (Luke) are two shock jocks ruling the Malaysian airwaves, and popularity meant being a pain in the royal behind, with bullying attitudes that got brought down to earth when they rubbed their producer the wrong way, and get ousted from the station as well as having their reputations destroyed amongst the close knit radio networks. With an expensive lifestyle to upkeep, they decide to pretend to be old ladies (shades of Mrs Doubtfire anyone?) Dola and Ah Mong in order to snag two job openings from Home FM which are targeting the senior citizen listeners, which of course open up doors to the usual senior citizen and hidden identity jokes as they try to curb their natural arrogant flair and distaste for basically everyone else in the world, to be amongst the age group they despise.

The Singapore connection here comes in the form of Clover Films, as well as the casting of four actors in leading and supporting roles. Mindee Ong's star is gaining traction so far, having left the 881/12 Lotus films for this as well as Han Yew Kwang's Perfect Rivals, in addition to sitcom on local television. Here she plays the lead female Wenxin, the producer at Home FM who concocted the Lelio Popo concept, and who hired Dola and Ah Mong on the spot, tasting success before a major scandal hit. But it's a role that doesn't require much acting chops and is quite easily forgettable as she frankly, doesn't do much except look good.

Also in forgettable roles are Alaric Tay as Jason, the self-proclaimed popular DJ in Home FM who has his status threatened by the increasing popularity of the two "old folks". He's the token villain hatching up schemes to discredit the new entrants, and Henry Thia makes it two films that he starred in managing an old folks home (the other being PCK the Movie, a subplot being his fond memory and longing to reach out to this childhood sweetheart with whom he had lost contact with, sharing nostalgia in the form of a P. Ramlee song. Rounding the local cast is Benjamin Heng as the effeminate fashionista Franky, responsible for helping our resident DJs create a look to fool the world. Again this role becomes needlessly steeped in melodrama if only to milk your tear ducts.

Lelio Popo unfortunately couldn't sustain its entertaining comedic first half, and had to switch gears down into deep melodramatic territory, with a finale that will make your goosebumps stand on ends, especially with the usual filial piety angle which didn't come off strongly in development, but had to be given focus because of its setting. The relationship of Lu Ye Chang and his mom was too far flung from beginning to end, as you'd feel nothing emotionally since it jumped started from bad to good in an instant, with subplots all going the quick and expected route to resolution.

What saved this film are the witty banter between the two leads, in Cantonese. It's the Malaysian variety of the language, and I was quite surprised that as far as films go here, Cantonese (and other Chinese languages) are frowned upon, but here it allowed rapid fire exchanges to be done without a snip. The trailer may have fooled an undecided viewer that it's all dubbed in really bad and emotionless Mandarin, but the final product was anything but. Hopefully this marks a first step toward relaxing of the rules, because as soon as the Mandarin dialogue (or accented ones from Malaysia) come on, the film immediately lost all its charm.

It's talk that DJs do, and it's talk in their natural language of choice that made all the difference in this film. Be prepared however for plenty of over-acting, that perhaps this film is better heard than seen. Still a decently entertaining effort, with a cruel comedic twist revelation at the end.

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