Jack Neo taps on 'kampung boy' days for new film

Growing up in Kampung Chai Chee, local director Jack Neo generally has fond memories of his childhood.

But there is one memory that is tinged with fear.

"I was nine when the 1969 racial riots happened, and I remember my village gathering at night to prepare weapons made out of bamboo sticks, in case we were attacked by the nearby kampung," he told The New Paper during a press conference at Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre yesterday.

"I was quite scared at the time, because I was so young. Fortunately, nothing bad happened to us."

Neo's own kampung days served as inspiration for his new feature film Long Long Time Ago, which is set in 1960s Singapore.


It tells the story of widow Zhao Di (Aileen Tan), who struggles to provide for her five children during a time when village gangs and racial tensions threatened the peace.

Actor-host Mark Lee plays Zhao Di's younger brother Ah Kun, while Wang Lei plays Zhao Di's father.

Actor-comedian Suhaimi Yusof also stars in the film, which features a Malay family.

"I wanted to show the multiracial side of Singapore in this film," said Neo, 55.

"The Chinese and Malay communities were very friendly in those days, and spoke each other's language. I wanted this movie to bring back those memories."

Long Long Time Ago will air in local cinemas over Chinese New Year next year. There are also plans to release it in Malaysia and Taiwan.

The trailer, which will be released sometime this month, reveals an epic tale filled with drama, CGI action and a natural disaster.

Neo admitted that the movie, filmed in Ipoh with a budget of $6 million, was a tricky project.

"The initial budget was $5 million, but because I wanted to make improvements, I took a cut from my director's fee to make things happen," said Neo.

"For example, we have a flood scene in the movie, and had to build a huge pool to film it.

"And we also introduced Auro-3D technology, which allows moviegoers to hear sounds, like rainfall, in a more realistic way."

Neo hopes families will watch Long Long Time Ago together, and that children can learn from their parents and grandparents about their kampung days.

"Even the language was different back then," he said.

"People spoke in Hokkien instead of Mandarin, and the words 'chio bu' (pretty girl) weren't a compliment but an insult, as it implied the girl was a slut.

"It's funny how phrases that had a bad connotation now mean the opposite.

"I think kids will be shocked by how things were during that period.

"Children these days have everything done for them, but in my time, we learned to be independent very early."

Ah Boys: From recruits to 'reservists'

They've sweated through Basic Military Training (BMT) and National Service, in the army and navy. And as their next challenge, the cast of Ah Boys to Men 4 will become operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen).

"We plan to have most of the original cast back, such as Joshua Tan, Tosh Zhang and Wang Wei Liang," said director Jack Neo.

"But we would like to cast some fresh faces as well, as we want to give more opportunities to local actors."

The story has yet to be finalised, but Neo confirmed that it will be one "around the reservist experience".

"We are also not sure which military unit to focus on this time, as we are still in talks with the Ministry of Defence on the unit that will be featured," he said.


"Some people are very happy, and some said, 'Aiya, it's the same old thing'. But I can promise you it won't be the same. It will be fun."

Neo also announced updates on his upcoming sequel to his popular 7 Letters short film, That Girl, in which a young girl and boy shared a bittersweet childhood crush.

It will be set three to five years later, showing the pair's reunion.

Said Neo: "Many people told me they weren't prepared to say goodbye to those characters, as they found their story touching. Usually I don't dare to touch love stories in my films, because I'm not really a romantic person. But this time, I have a good scriptwriter and team, so I'm confident it will turn out well."

The original child actors, Yan Li Xuan and Josmen Lum, may not return as they may not be the right age.

The film, which is still untitled, will be released over Chinese New Year in 2017.

This article was first published on December 3, 2015.
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