Ah Boys to Men (ABTM) – Singapore’s most popular movie franchise – is back with its third film. And this time, with our favourite cast somehow making their way into the elite Naval Diving Unit (NDU). If you have somehow been able to escape all the buzz that’s surrounded ABTM, the franchise revolves around a group of army “boys” maturing into “men” as they serve out their compulsory National Service.
Since the first ABTM movie, it has been a tradition for my family to watch ABTM on Chinese New Year. This year was no exception. We went to VIVO City, dragging along my cousin and her Australian husband. But when the film started rolling, I’ll be honest – I cringed.
It is with no hesitation when I say: the effects for the war-scenarios were horrible and tacky. I mean, at least try to make the explosions look believable, rather than cut-and-pasted-on in post-production. Ask Michael Bay for lessons or something.
Thankfully, after the war scenes, the movie started to redeem itself. The boys are shown registering for NDU, where they meet a new guy – Hei Long, a triad boss. He’s even more gangsta than Lobang. Hei Long is played by Wesley Wong, son of veteran Hong Kong actors. It was hilarious watching the showdown between the Cantonese (Hei Long) and Hokkien (Lobang) gangsters. Bonus for the ladies: Hei Long is really easy on the eyes.
I like ABTM3 much more than ABTM1. In the first film, it was more of “Ken Chow to Men” as the film mostly revolved around the bratty main lead. Whereas the third film showed more of the other boys, with Wayang King narrating the film. We even get to hear Lobang’s back-story, which is frankly quite depressing. There is also some development of Lobang and Wei Ming’s bromance, which I’m sure will raise a couple of goosebumps (in a good way).
It is clear that the cast worked really hard this time round. Perhaps it’s because it’s the third time the cast have been working together, or maybe it’s the nature of NDU’s training, but the camaraderie among the men was palpably much stronger than before. The acting has also improved tremendously. I was especially impressed by Wang Wei Liang (Lobang). For a non-professional, his emotional scenes were credible enough to bring a tear to the eye – the kind of raw emotion that is a trademark of a Jack Neo film.
Speaking of Jack Neo, for as long as I remember, Jack Neo has been making comedy films with likeable characters that have always made me laugh and cry at the same time. His films usually contain experiences most Singaporeans can relate to or would have gone through personally, which is probably why they’re so well-received.
But this particular trait of his films can also work against him, for to foreigners (like my cousin’s husband), the concepts explored in the films are… well, too foreign. This film is clearly made for a local audience because no one would “get it” the way we do. It’s a good thing that it has done so well at the local box office because, as an export film it doesn’t seem to hold as much promise.
In a nutshell, the movie is simplistic, yet enjoyable. It’s got entertainment value, and it’s perfect for a fun day out with family or friends. Light and fluffy, it caters to the popular. As with its earlier releases, ABTM3 promises a popcorn flavour with a little home-grown, feel-good propaganda thrown into the mix. We know we’re not likely to get much more than that.