Wednesday, June 16, 2004

To me, Jack Neo's films are the equivalent of morality tales for heartlanders. Unpretentious, straightforward characters coupled with an equally straightforward narrative heavily flavoured with moral messages.

This not to say that the films are inherently bad. On the contrary, Neo makes excellent entertainment with the mix of verbal and visual comedy, original songs that act as commentary, and a script packed with lively dialogue and amiable and sympathetic characters. Home run is the clear exception to this -- Neo's originality zings and zooms when it isn't crimped while reinterpreting someone else's work.

What sets Neo's latest -- The Best Bet (Tu Ran Fa Cai) -- apart from his earlier modern-day parables is a more focused narrative, the predominantly-Hokkien dialogues and experimentation with darker, more violent undertones. Unfortunately, focus groups apparently disliked Neo's attempts at growth as a filmmaker, and he was forced to adjust the movie accordingly, including tacking on an anti-climactic ending out of a Primary Three student's written composition. A criticism of artistic cowardice may be in order here.

But who cares? The Best Bet looks to be another money-spinner for Raintree Pictures (and thus Mediacorp). Jack Neo, in all likelihood, will not see the lion's share of the profits and royalties. The in-your-face product placements do bear slight hints of irreverence but at the end of the day Jack Neo knows that film-making, for his backers, is a business. Some of us may want to sneer at his pandering to the masses, but artistic freedom doesn't pay the bills.

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