Even without his Ah Boys cash cows in major roles, director Jack Neo's latest movie Long Long Time Ago managed to top the local box office over the Chinese New Year long weekend.
In the six days since it opened last Thursday to Tuesday, the nostalgia-themed film about a family in 1960s and 1970s Singapore earned $1.65 million.
It beat films such as The Monkey King 2, starring Aaron Kwok in the titular role; the star-studded Hong Kong gambling comedy From Vegas To Macau III featuring Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau and Nick Cheung in the leads; and Hong Kong comedy king Stephen Chow's latest effort Mermaid.
Despite its success, however, Long Long Time Ago's earnings are not close to that of Neo's army-themed Ah Boys To Men movies. During Chinese New Year last year, Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen raked in $2.8 million in just four days.
Speaking to The Straits Times, the film-maker admits that it is "not easy" to find another subject that cuts across all age groups as much as national service in his Ah Boys films.
Neo, 56, says: "When young people first hear about how Long Long Time Ago is set in the past and in the kampung, they might immediately think that the movie is not for them.
"Whereas for Ah Boys, many young people feel like they can relate to it and so they will go and watch. So these two movies have very different appeals."
Still, the director is heartened by the positive feedback he has heard from some of the younger audiences about Long Long Time Ago.
He says: "Some young people have told me that they have enjoyed watching Long Long Time Ago with their parents, which is nice to hear.
"Hopefully, they will see that even though it is set in the past, this film crosses multiple generations and it is ultimately still their story."
Long Long Time Ago had at least one day's headstart in the box office race over the other movies.
It opened in cinemas last Thursday, but From Vegas To Macau III ($1.497 milion) and The Monkey King 2 ($836,000) opened only last Friday night at 6pm. Meanwhile, Mermaid (figure not available yet) opened only on Monday.
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