There's a certain stigma attached to Jack Neo movies -- not crowd favourites like "I Not Stupid", of course -- like the sentiment that they're just an endless stream of product placements.
It didn't help that one of his recent franchises got roasted quite a bit, although its second instalment did fare better.
When I was tasked to watch the director's latest Chinese New Year (CNY) offering "The King of Musang King", I went in with zero expectations -- or, if I'm being really honest, expecting to hate it.
Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Not only did I not hate it, I *gasp* rather enjoyed it.
A Jack Neo love story?
The movie's rather vague synopsis didn't help matters, as it sounded like a love story between Neo's character and Yeo Yann Yann's.
In short, Mao Shan (Neo) and Mei Lian (Yeo) are durian farmers whose plantations are next to each other. They work together to better their business prospects and fall in love in the process.
Just when things were going swimmingly, Mei Lian's estranged husband Jin Shui (Mark Lee) returns, and chaos ensues.
A love triangle with Jack Neo and Mark Lee in it. How exciting.
What the synopsis didn't tell you
Just after I entered the theatre, I wondered if there would be a kiss scene when the winner of Mei Lian's heart was dramatically determined. After all, that's how the fictional world has told us that love is expressed, right?
This niggling feeling slowly faded away as the movie progressed.
Turns out, there's a lot more going on than just an ol' fashioned love story. Believe it or not, "The King of Musang King" delved into some pretty complex stuff:
- Does being blood-related mean that you have to be unequivocal about your support, even if your relative is a complete stranger?
- Is there ever a *right* answer to love?
- With the advent of technology, decades-old practices are becoming obsolete. Is there a win-win solution for everyone to benefit from?
- When dealing with boomers, is it justified to fight fire with fire, or is there a certain decorum that we should maintain, even if we know that we're right?
- In the first place, are we ever 100 per cent right?
If you're the sort who prefers to not mull over such matters, there's also adorable banter, mostly between Lee and Henry Thia (often affectionately referred to as Hui Ge).
One of their conversations go something like this:
Lee: All the best stuff start with the letter L. What's the most expensive seafood?
Thia: Lolex (Rolex)
Thia: Lolls Loyce (Rolls-Royce)
Neo clearly doesn't take himself too seriously, as flashback scenes are sped up to the point where the actors sound like chipmunks.
He also poked fun at the corporate world as debt collectors came in the form of children, who said that they were interns at the company.
Was it all good?
Let’s get this straight: "The King of Musang King" is by no means perfect.
There were times when the dubbed voices didn’t match what was on screen, and there was one instance where the audio came in when a character’s mouth was closed.
We also spotted plot holes—for one, how did a livestream start on a phone that was just plugged in to a charger when it was supposed to be out of juice?
Some of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) gave the feeling of “Eh, why did they include this? It would have been better without it.”
However, mm2 Entertainment has since informed us that the film shown during the media screening is not the final version that will be shown in cinemas.
Don’t expect an “Ilo Ilo” level of warm fuzzy feelings either, because that’s not what this movie is about.
Throughout the two-and-a-half hours or so of the movie, there was only one instance where there was blatant product placement.
It happened towards the end of the movie, when a bunch of live streams were shown to prove how far-reaching e-commerce has become. A certain health product brand was hawked by one of the streamers, but the scene only lasted for a few seconds.
Not too bad for a Jack Neo movie, we suppose.
All in all, "The King of Musang King" is reminiscent of Neo's older (and dare we say, better) works, and if this is the trajectory he's taking, there's hope yet that he'll come back even stronger next year.
Please don't make us eat our words.
And also -- no, there was no kiss scene.
"The King of Musang King" opens in cinemas on Jan. 21, 2023.
Top photos courtesy of mm2 Entertainment