Bits of realism are prized virtues

Bits of realism are prized virtues
Cinema still: Filial Party starring (from left) Mark Lee (in red), Kym Ng and Christopher Lee (second from right)


The story: A group of contestants from various social backgrounds battle it out on a TV game show, I Am Filial, in which the one deemed most filial to his parents will win $1 million. As finalists Ah Beng (Christopher Lee), Yoona (Hayley Woo) and Yishuang (Ann Kok) do all they can to prove themselves filial, game show host Millionaire Liu (Mark Lee) plots to complicate things for the sake of increasing viewership ratings.

The premise of the film barely stands. Just how does one measure filial piety? Certainly not through a TV game show, as this movie attempts to demonstrate.

The contestants try all they can to be more filial to their parents than their rivals are to their own.

Bratty contestant Yoona (Woo) treats her parents as if they were her best friends, and they gush over K-pop stars together. Lawyer Yishuang (veteran TV actress Kok in her feature film debut) is captured onscreen saying all the right things about her single mother at all the right times.

The most engaging and fleshed-out contestant is Peh Ah Beng, a security guard played to boorish perfection by Lee.

Everything works against him in the popularity rankings, given his impatient and uncouth manner, but there is something moving about this classic underdog character who trudges on in his own way, no matter what.

You soon learn that he is so desperate to win the game show prize money not out of greed, but because in expensive Singapore, he can barely make enough money to feed his household of seven - a rare bit of realism in an otherwise ridiculously unbelievable film.

Comedian Mark Lee is also convincing in a thankfully restrained performance as the scheming game show host ready to do anything to up show ratings. The other major characters vying for the game show prize barely register.

Then again, the game show is merely an excuse to flimsily link together a string of different family stories, all so melodramatic they feel ripped off from Taiwanese Minnan dramas.

Much of the movie, as expected, is made up of the usual slapstick gags and silly puns that director Boris Boo's films such as Greedy Ghost (2012) and Phua Chu Kang The Movie (2010) are known for.

When even an A-list actor such as Christopher Lee has to wander around naked to milk laughs, you know the movie itself does not have a stitch of credibility.

This article was published on May 7 in The Straits Times.

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