Jack Neo can make light family drama; social satire and even some verbal comedy, but please do not let him make a war movie. Ever. The opening sequences of "Ah Boys to Men" depicted our beloved home city under attack by enemy forces. Neo went whole hog with the digital explosions and debris-littered ruins of once familiar local landmarks. I suppose our armed forces saw this movie as an opportunity to show off some of the latest military hardware in action. But the on-screen violence was a gratuitous pastiche of bangs, blood and... bad gags. There's too much showing off of the studio's spfx capabilities, but not much focus on what's holding the shots together. Yes, it's a case of trying too hard to wear too many hats that the narrative credibility just falls apart.
Besides, the unidentified OPFOR has no apparent objective. The logistics it brings to bear suggest a conventional invasion, but the tactics and doctrine are that of terrorists on a suicide mission. Taking out civilian targets and civilians themselves on the ground first, while leaving military response bases able to mobilize against the threat practically guarantees a short campaign. Yet, the sequence ends with no clear resolution. The invasion is still in progress, both sides are losing combat-capable troops then, abruptly, a new story begins. Even as propaganda, the pointless introduction fails. While it does set the tone for what turns out to be an emo "Army Daze" remake, the initial emotional impact is dulled by out-of-place humour and a poorly executed montage of people randomly trading shots with each other with various types of ordnance, collateral damage notwithstanding.
Fortunately, the rest of the movie -- which actually involves family drama; social satire and light verbal comedy -- plays to Neo's strengths. Apart from tracing the lead character's journey from Ah Boy to Man through his misadventures in Basic Training, the movie was also a nostalgic comparison of training philosophies past and present. Back then, it was a civilian ARMY; whereas now it is a CIVILIAN army. These sequences I can believe because we've all been there and they're part of our collective consciousness.
Neo again goes for the moralistic approach in the debate that follows: Priority to self, or priority to nation, the answer being pretty obvious. While exploring the humour that goes with various methods employed by malingering conscripts to escape training, ultimately selfish choices lead to nasty consequences that have an impact on wider society. That story of a boy's learning to take responsibility for his actions, though melodramatic, is clear. Though what he does with this new found responsibility is a lot less clear because of the sudden...
TO BE CONTINUED