A very well-known filmmaker, Jack Neo is a commonly identified name that all Singaporeans will be able to relate to. Besides the 13 films that he has directed and some which he acted in, most Singaporeans will remember him deeply for his comedic cross-dressing role as Liang Po Po and Liang Xi Mei. His productions have certainly managed to capture the hearts of most Singaporeans as they are able to relate with his movies. He is arguably the most successful filmmaker in terms of box office earnings with I Not Stupid earning S$3.8million, I Not Stupid 2 earning S$4.6million and Money No Enough earning S$5.8million.
Beyond earnings, he placed Singapore on the world map by clinching 6 international film awards for Homerun including Best Director at the Montreal Film Festival. The film also led to the Golden Horse Award being awarded to the first Singaporean, Megan Zhang, for Best New Performer. Adding to his tally are the Public Service Medal Award in 2004 and the Arts Cultural Medallion Award in 2005. His influence and achievements in the film industry in Singapore is undeniable and it is probably the most tangible and easily recognizable one. Neos films have certain characteristics that audiences can often expect even without reading spoilers. On top of all the laughs and drama, there are usually a couple of hidden messages within the plot.
These messages tend be critiques of the government policies. In Money No Enough, Keong who was a mandarin speaking local worker who perhaps was more deserving of a promotion got overlooked because of a new colleague who received overseas education and spoke English. This is an attempt by Neo to stab at the governments policy of attracting foreign talents who are given preferential treatment. This is shown by the film where Keong, who is more industrious and sincere in the corporate society, was trumped by foreigners. This greatly reflects the struggles of the Chinese-speaking majority in Singapore who feel the sacrifices of the growth and globalization of Singapore. In I Not Stupid, Liu told his son to study hard so that he can be employed in the civil sector where he can earn high wages in the future. His wife then adds Better still, be a minister. This is a message that might be hard to catch for foreigners but hints at many Singaporeans sentiments that the ministers are being overpaid.
Hard-earned wages are used to supplement the wages of these ministers. Another instance is in the way that Neo portrays the EM3 students in I Not Stupid. The streaming since young by the Singapore education system has often been criticized to be promoting academic elitism where students in lower streams are seen as inferior, and often condemned to a much harder path towards success in society. Neos movies are also characterized by the very easily relatable characters that will often coincide with a large number of the population. Every audience would have experienced or know of someone close who experienced something similar. As Neo said, As a director, I like real. Everything in my movie is real. He could claim that the films were based on true stories and the audience would have bought it.
His films are generally family oriented where the male actors reflect the lives of many male white and blue collared Singaporeans, working hard in a harsh society with many obstacles in the way to provide for their family in material terms. The ability to strike a chord with his audiences, many who followed his antics on previous television appearances is a major reason that Neos films have been so popular. Love is also a very big part of the films that Neo has made. Parents love, siblings love and friendship are a large part of his movies where love drives the characters actions. For example in I Not Stupid, Kok Pin wanted to commit suicide because he felt unloved whenever his mum caned him. However it was because of love that his mum did it because she wanted him to succeed in society.
This in itself sent a message to the audience that the way they loved their children might not be well-received and will often be misinterpreted. The scene encourages parents to communicate more with their children to avoid something similar from happening. In Homerun, it was the brothers love that led Kiat Kun in a wild goose chase to retrieve his sisters shoes, and friendship that led to Beng Soon giving new pairs of shoes to Kiat Kun and Seow Fang. Neos films also feature a lot of Singlish and Hokkien lines which is one of the most significant part about being a Singaporean. Despite the governments continuous efforts to drive out Singlish and dialects, Neo embraced it and made them an essential part of his film.
The presence of hokkien was also in contrary to what the government was trying to achieve as a ban was carried out on dialect radio and television broadcasts since the 1970s. Singaporeans could easily relate to the Singlish and the dialects in the show and hence propelling it to greater popularity. Neo has so far used a formula of failure, self-realization and success for his films and this might not be realistic in fact. His films however serve as a form of motivation for the struggling Singaporeans who identifies with his films.
The happy endings that Neo has been known to produce will give any person the necessary push required to try harder and be rewarded in the end. His recent appearances have been more muted following his scandal in 2010 as he waits for the scandal to be forgotten. The most recent film We Not Naughty has been disappointing compared to the successes of the first few due to the very predictable storyline that gets boring eventually. It is yet to be seen if he will be able to create another success story for himself in the near future.
[ 1 ]. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0626090/#Director
[ 2 ]. http://www.jteam.com.sg/aboutus/jackneo.asp
[ 3 ]. http://www.sinema.sg/2008/07/14/sinema-screens-jack-neos-first-films/ [ 4 ]. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,221199,00.html [ 5 ]. http://archive.ifla.org/IV/ifla65/65cc-e.htm