There is one thing that director Jack Neo did right.
With The Lion Men, he brought the neglected art of lion dancing into pop culture consciousness.
In Singapore, only the director of the second most-watched film in Singapore last year (Ah Boys To MenPart 2) has the clout and resources to do that.
Neo is no ordinary Singaporean director. He won the Public Service Medal at the Singapore National Day Awards 2004, for his achievements in filmmaking. He is our 2005 Cultural Medallion winner.
Which is the reason why many felt that he can do better with this movie.
I am not a film director nor a movie critic. And I enjoy Jack’s films for his humour.
But here are a few suggestions how Jack Neo can please his loyal movie fans (like me) without causing him too much financial distress.
1. Showcase 18-year old China actress Eva Cheng and a prominent local female lead.
For the male viewers, leading lady Eva Cheng is probably the only reason why they would watch The Lion Men.
We understand from The Straits Times that if Jack has “a Chinese actress, the movie has a better shot at making it in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong”.
But he raised our expectations when he held The Lion Men auditions last year, with 815 women trying their luck.
The movie has two male leads Tosh Zhang and Wang Weiliang. Surely, we can have two female leads too (Eva Cheng and a local female actress).
2. Cut down on product placements and promote up-and-coming local brands.
We have actor Chen Tianwen giving ang baos in the form of NETS Cashcards. We have the Lion dance troupes performing in front of BreadTalk.
Some of these product placements distracted the viewers from the plot.
Maybe Jack is promoting local brands with his product placements.
3. Tosh Zhang vs Wang Weiliang
Tosh Zhang is easily most popular and charismatic young actor among the Ah Boys stars.
But this is a Chinese film and the eloquent YouTube star, fluent in English, struggled at times with his delivery of Mandarin lines.
Source: J Team Productions
As veteran actor Chen Tianwen observed, “Weiliang is the most outstanding of the lot. He has a quick mind and responds fast when acting”.
Were commercial considerations at play when the film prefer to highlight Tosh instead of Weiliang?
4. Part 1 + Part 2 movie
Source: Ah Boys to Men Facebook
We can understand why Ah Boys to Men is a two-parter. National Service is a 46-year-old institution that resonates with many Singaporean males so there’s a lot of material there.
But The Lion Men is not a discourse of the historic traditions of the lion dance. Surely 130 minutes is sufficient to tell a coming-of-age story with the folk art as the backdrop.
Again, we wonder if the box-office takings of Ah Boys to Men ($6.23 million for Part 1 and $7.73 million for Part 2) played a part in making this movie a two-parter.
Let me quote PM Lee’s National Day Rally last year:
“[I]f you succeed under our system, then you must feel the duty to contribute back because you did not do it alone. Therefore, if that works, we invest in you, you give back, then everyone will benefit from the system and will see it as fair and good.”
As the elder statesman of the local film industry, Jack has a duty to contribute back to the film industry. He can do so by promoting more local talents and local brands, as well as pushing the boundaries of local film-making.
I am sure he can make his films commercial and critical successes without resorting to the sales tricks of infomericials.