At The Movies: Jack Neo's The Diam Diam Era, The Croods sequel and more

The Diam Diam Era is split into two parts, with the next instalment arriving next Chinese New Year.
The Diam Diam Era is split into two parts, with the next instalment arriving next Chinese New Year.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

The Diam Diam Era

(PG13, 107 minutes, opens Nov 26, 2 stars)

The first two films in the series came out in 2016 as Long Long Time Ago parts 1 and 2. Director Jack Neo took nostalgia porn to a cinematic level. That rose-tinted view of 1960s kampong life was a hit.

Four years later comes this work, also split into two parts, with the next instalment arriving next Chinese New Year.

What is new is that the Lim children are now living in a Housing Board flat, with uncle Ah Kun (Mark Lee) checking in on them.

Neo's focus has also shifted fromfamily melodrama to politics - in particular the perceived erasure of Chinese-ness through the English-first education policy.

Going into detail here is tricky because the film's story will conclude only next year, but the conflict is seen mostly through the eyes of the Lim clan's younger members, who are either sidelined, or as in the case of the National Serviceman Shun Fa (Richie Koh), made a laughing stock because of his lack of English proficiency.

This comedy-drama dares open cultural wounds many thought had healed. Other issues are looked at too. There are bits in which cabby Ah Kun argues with officials over parking and restricted zone coupon violations, but these are distracting time fillers (as are the montages set to hit dialect and Mandarin songs of the period).

With much of the time taken up by Ah Kun's run-ins with authorities and Shun Fa's National Service travails, what is noticeably absent are stories for the three Lim women (played by Meixin Macy, Yap Hui Xin and Regina Lim) or indeed any woman. Former K-pop singer Tasha Low makes a brief appearance as Shun Fa's folk singer love interest.

There are the usual tiring Neo-isms, mostly to do with his view that the problems affecting a group of Chinese men should be everyone's problem but without explaining why. It makes him reluctant to trim bits with overlong male banterand causes him to divide women into either simpering cuties or the comically overweight.

Ah Kun comes across not as a real person but as a tool for expressing disgruntlement with anything invented after 1971. It shows that even when Neo is taking the high road by tackling issues, one can always count on him to undercut himself.

The Croods: A New Age


PHOTO: UIP

(PG, 90 minutes, opens Nov 26, 3 stars)

Old meets new when the Croods run into the Bettermans, a family living the sweet life behind walls that keep in food while keeping out dangerous beasties.

The Bettermans (voiced by Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran) welcome the Croods into their high-tech utopia, but cannot help seeing themselves as more evolved and therefore superior to the cave-loving Croods (Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke; Ryan Renolds voices the outsider, Guy).

The snobs-versus-slobs setup in this follow-up to 2013's The Croods will end as all such setups do. It is the getting there that counts.

Here, the journey is paved with quips of the television sitcom variety, ones that make relatable references to the world today. There is an extended sight gag, for example, about a Betterman invention called a "window" that has entranced Thunk (Duke), who becomes glued to it as one would to a television.

The film buzzes with visual energy - the plants are a Pandora's box of surprises and the hybrid animals are inspired - but that rich eye candy only makes the played-out nature of the jokes more apparent.

First-time feature director Joel Crawford cut his teeth as an artist on animation that leans heavily on comedy (Bee Movie, 2007; all three Kung Fu Panda movies; 2008 to 2016) at the expense of character or plot. But the gags, while trite, are at least competently executed.

Falling


PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

(R21, 113 minutes, opens Nov 26, 4 stars)

Viggo Mortensen likes to keep busy. When not starring in films or running a publishing house or writing poetry, he is making music, painting or taking photographs.

With this family drama, the 62-year-old Danish-American actor adds screenwriter, director and soundtrack musician to his resume. Luckily, the work bears no trace of a man who has spread himself thinly - the emotions are heartfelt and range from sweet to scary.

Lance Henriksen, the 80-year-old actor who broke through as the android Bishop in the science-fiction thriller Aliens (1986), is terrifying as Willis, a farmer stricken with dementia.

His son John (Mortensen) has taken him into the home he shares with husband Eric (Terry Chen) and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis).

The stage is set for confrontation. Father and son have different views about what "normal" sexuality is, but there are other gulfs, made worse by the older man's loosening grasp on reality. Willis expresses toxic opinions so often, every time he speaks, everyone in John's liberal California home clenches, as would many in the audience.

John and his sister Sarah (Laura Linney) have a duty of care, but living with the man who is a reminder of their cold, empty childhoods could give them breakdowns as well as create rifts in the families they have now.

Mortensen has created a memorable villain in Willis, a dependant relying on the people to whom he showed an especially tough brand of love. His children are doing what they can with their blustery father, a man who would be easy to hate if not for Henriksen giving glimpses of the frightened, fragile man beneath.

The Cursed Lesson

(R21, 93 minutes, opens Nov 26, not reviewed)

It is body horror time in this South Korean film that explores the cutthroat world of beauty influencers.

When model Hyo-jung faces irrelevancy among new competition, she tries every solution science has to offer. Then hope arrives in the form of a mysterious yoga class that promises amazing results, which she, along with others in the class, soon discover come with a hideous price tag.