SINGAPORE - Ah Girls Go Army is unusual for a couple of reasons. It is the first of film-maker Jack Neo's military comedy series not to feature key roles for male cast members from the Ah Boys To Men film franchise (2012 to 2017).
Also, the unpredictable nature of Covid-19 restrictions caused producers to proceed with filming without the support of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which in the past had lent its vehicles and facilities for a touch of realism.
The movie opens on Feb 1.
Director Neo tells The Straits Times that his team had to improvise.
"When you can't get the real thing, you have to come up with a way to make what you have look real. It won't look the same as what the SAF has, but it will be close enough to be believable," he says.
In previous interviews, producers have talked about turning a school in Bedok into an army camp - by installing beds and cupboards and by using the assembly square as a parade ground, for example.
Previous films featured action scenes using SAF equipment, such as the facilities of the Naval Diving Unit (NDU) in Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen (2015), and tanks in Ah Boys To Men 4 (2017).
The film series, directed by Neo, 61, is among the most successful Singapore film franchises, having grossed more than $26.8 million in theatres.
The film-maker does not see the lack of impressive SAF hardware as a setback.
"I don't think we will be missing out. We did have the NDU and the armour unit in the previous movies, but this movie is set during basic training, so we don't need that," he says.
Ah Girls is set in the near future, when population levels have fallen so much that women are conscripted into national service. The film follows one such group of women as they undergo basic military training.
The cast includes Apple Chan (who appeared in Ah Boys To Men 4), Xixi Lim, Shirli Ling, Farah Farook and Eswari Gunasagar.
The character of recruit Goh Bee Bee is played by actress Samantha Tan, a former talent with Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) production company.
In a separate interview, Tan, 28, says that moving from making videos with NOC to working on her first feature film was a "surreal" experience.
"I learnt so much about acting, giving my character more life," she says.
Her character's initials are GBB, which in the film are jokingly taken to mean Go By Book as she is a stickler for the rules.
She is not evil; she is a smart soldier who is also uptight, which makes her the target of teasing, says Tan.
"She's not there to impress anyone, she just wants everyone in her section to stay out of trouble because she knows the consequences of every action. Her bunk mates are there to help her be more flexible," she adds.
GBB is a character whom many people would have come across in their daily lives, she says. A movie about women serving in the military might be an unusual set-up for a Chinese New Year movie, but she thinks the story's humour and everyday characters make it a good holiday treat.
"I feel like I could have someone like GBB as a friend in real life. The characters feel relatable, very Singaporean. That's what I like about them, and I think everyone can find someone who resonates with them."
Ah Girls Go Army opens in cinemas on Feb 1.