SINGAPORE - The next movie in the Ah Boys To Men series will be the one with the most military hardware on display, promises its director Jack Neo.
Also, for the first time in the series, there will be a woman soldier in the cast, reflecting the actual gender balance of the Singapore Armed Forces, he says.
At a press briefing on Wednesday (July 5) at the Singapore Armed Force's Sungei Gedong Camp, Neo, 57, also addressed the controversy that broke out earlier this year when an Indian actor said he was asked to put on a strong Indian accent for laughs at a casting director for a part in the movie.
When asked about the controversy sparked by actor Shrey Bhargava, who posted a Facebook complaint about an Ah Boys To Men 4 audition in which he was asked to play a caricature of an Indian, Neo says that the incident might have been the result of a misunderstanding.
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"Casting directors like to ask, 'Show me what you can do', as a way of seeing how they can fit the actor into other projects," he says.
Actor Kishan J., 24, who plays a soldier in the upcoming movie, says that every ethnic group in Singapore speaks English with its own accent and that no film in the Ah Boys series has used Indian accents for a laugh.
Ah Boys To Men 4 is planned for a November release.
Neo says he was visiting military bases for research when he noticed that many of the soldiers were women.
This was especially true of armour units, the units with tanks and fighting vehicles that will form the backbone of the new movie.
"I saw women instructors and female tank platoon commanders. They are in combat units, doing the same things that the men do, and going through the same training, without special treatment. This surprised me," he says.
Hong Kong-based actress Apple Chan, 28, will play a female officer, to whom returning characters such as Sergeant Ong (Tosh Zhang), Lobang (Wang Weiliang), IP Man (Noah Yap) report.
In the new film, Wang, 30, says the boys are back as reservists.
"That phase, when we were all recruits, is over. We are all older. We have wives, we have children. Including me," he says.
Ms Chan, who practises mixed martial arts, is set to undergo the same four-day armour orientation course that her male cast members have taken.
"I'm ready," says the actress, who was raised in Singapore. She adds that her male cast members have joked that she already has the bearing of someone who will not be pushed around.
The film will include large-scale action scenes featuring a number of vehicles, including the Leopard 2 SG battle tank, and the Bionix 40/50 and Bionix 2MT armoured fighting vehicles, "things that people can only see at the National Day Parade," says Neo.