Jack Neo: The Film-Going Expat’s Guide To Singapore

It’s Singapore, and you can tell another year’s started because there’s a new Jack Neo film in the cinema. You’ve got to admire the man’s ability to put moving pictures on a screen, although he unfortunately seems to have missed all the classes on editing.

We love him anyway.

His latest unnecessarily-prolonged two-parter is called The Lion Men, which on the surface is a lion dance/hip hop/martial arts-fusion action comedy vaguely driven by the tension between traditionalism and progress in present-day Singaporean society, and no doubt inspired by this kind of thing:

There is no deeper level. As someone whose film tastes were moulded by Fred Estaire, Gene Kelly and Jackie Chan, it’s baffling to imagine we wouldn’t all be ok with that, but in the name of due diligence let me make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Bronwyn Joy’s Beginner’s Guide To Everything You Need To Know About A Jack Neo Film, Assuming You Don’t Know Anything At All Already

Jack Neo is a prolific Singaporean film maker who’s built a career on playing to the punters, so his films make an excellent introduction to Singaporean language and culture, and not just because you don’t have to live here too long before the next one comes out.

They’re great if you want to hone your Singlish. The subtitles translate phrases such as “so blur like sotong” so you won’t have to act blur lah next time an Uncle describes you that way at the wet market. And it’s best to get used to the accent before you have to start dealing with locals over the phone, where they can’t see you act blur and might just assume you’ve dropped out.

You’ll also get a nice introduction to Singapore’s latest concerns. Jack won’t say too much about them, but someone has to point out the room’s elephants. I’m sure it helps solidify public sentiment into something wieldy enough to prod the nation’s institutions with.

I like to see the blatant product-placement as a sort of tongue-in-cheek jab at Singapore’s consumerist reputation, even though it’s probably not.  A good drinking game is one shot for every advertising deal Jack made room for, but couldn’t quite close. The Lion Men script refers to sponsorship from “a major fashion label”, with the big dance-off prize coming from “American Global Network” – so that’s two shots to get you started. (A bad drinking game is one shot for every deal he did close. You’ll be wasted before the characters start “incidentally” showing us through the great new app they’ve downloaded for their various devices. Hope you don’t have to work, like, again ever.)

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Jack Neo film slash drinking game without a cameo by Jack Neo.

If You Only See One Jack Neo Film This Year (Because He’ll Probably Release More Than That)

My first and favourite Jack Neo film is Just Follow Law (2007) – a body-swap comedy and gentle exposition on the true attitude to rules and procedure in this “fine” city of Singapore. I’ll also give honourable mentions to Money No Enough (1998) and Ah Long Pty Ltd (2008).

But this year’s Lion Men will hold a place in my heart for throwing everything I’m fond of in cinema (dance, martial arts, comedy) into one, ninety-minute-long film, which Jack never got around to editing down under four-and-a-half hours, shown over two separate features. As long as I can be reasonably certain of more dance/action scenes like those we’ve seen so far, he’ll get another ticket off me for part two.

As BlackJacq of Yes Or No Movie Reviews* would put it: yes.


The Lion Men was released on January 3oth, and will probably disappear completely from cinemas within a few weeks, just like all films shown in Singapore. Disclaimer: my Singaporean colleague rates his films as “not worth spending money to see”. No responsibility is taken if you spend money to see one and end up agreeing with her instead of me.

Update: Thrifty Travel Mama has located some Jack Neo films on Yes Asia.


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