Jack Neo executive producing Chinese New Year film about prisoners turning over new leaf

(From left) Dennis Chew, Henry Thia and Wang Lei star in the film Take 2, directed by first-timer Ivan Ho
(From left) Dennis Chew, Henry Thia and Wang Lei star in the film Take 2, directed by first-timer Ivan HoPHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Dennis Chew, Henry Thia and Wang Lei star in the film Take 2, directed by first-timer Ivan Ho (above).
Dennis Chew, Henry Thia and Wang Lei star in the film Take 2, directed by first-timer Ivan Ho (above).PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

For the last five years, director Jack Neo put out a festive movie every Chinese New Year period. But next year's Year of the Rooster will be the first one where he will not do so.

Instead, the prolific 57-year-old will be executive producing Singapore movie Take 2.

"I can't even remember the last time I didn't direct a movie for Chinese New Year. It's a little strange, isn't it?" he muses to The Straits Times in Mandarin at the filming commencement ceremony for Take 2 yesterday morning.

Over the last few years, Chinese New Year has been associated with films by Neo.

There was family drama We Not Naughty in 2012, the army-themed Ah Boys To Men 2 in 2013, lion dance drama The Lion Men in 2014 and navy-themed Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen last year. This year, he released the two-part nostalgic film Long Long Time Ago.

He adds: "But it's time to give other new film-makers a chance to make their own films. We can't always have the same few directors in Singapore making all the movies."

Taking the helm for Take 2 is first-time director Ivan Ho, a longtime screenwriting partner of Neo's.

Ho, 49, co-scripted several of Neo's popular films, including Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen (2015), Long Long Time Ago (2016), and his segment That Girl in the omnibus film 7 Letters (2015).

On the best and worst advice that Neo has given him with regard to directing, Ho says with a grin: "It's not exactly advice, but it's both good and bad - just overall pressure."

Neo says: "We know each other well and time has proven that he has great ideas for stories. I have complete faith that Ivan will deliver a good movie."

Take 2 is a comedy about four prisoners who are determined to turn over a new leaf after they finish serving their jail sentences.

Playing the four ex-convicts are Ah Boys To Men star Maxi Lim, veteran getai host Wang Lei, goofy comedian Gadrick Chin and Ryan Lian, who was last seen in the role of a gangster in Long Long Time Ago.

Rounding up the rest of the cast are Neo's usual collaborators such as Mark Lee and Henry Thia.

Neo says of the $1.5-million film: "This story idea was bounced around for years. I'm glad we are finally doing it because it's an uplifting story about people getting a second chance in life."

Getai host-turned-actor Wang Lei, 55, says that he signed on to the film "without hesitation" because the role mirrors his life experience.

The reformed gambler, who was mired in gambling debts of more than $300,000 just three years ago, will play Feng Gou in the movie, an ex-punter who vows to kick the gambling habit.

He says: "The character that I'm playing is exactly how I used to be. But I've changed and I hope that others can be inspired to change too after watching the film."

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'New year, new chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe