At The Movies

Political satire and switched identities

Local writer-director Jack Neo's The Diam Diam Era Two and comedy-thriller Endgame are among this week's offerings

Xiao Yang (above left) and Andy Lau (above right) in Endgame, and Yang Mi (left) in A Writer's Odyssey.
Xiao Yang (above left) and Andy Lau (above right) in Endgame, and Yang Mi in A Writer's Odyssey.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Xiao Yang (above left) and Andy Lau (above right) in Endgame, and Yang Mi (left) in A Writer's Odyssey.
Xiao Yang and Andy Lau in Endgame, and Yang Mi (above) in A Writer's Odyssey.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

THE DIAM DIAM ERA TWO (PG13)

91 minutes, opens today

3 stars

After the saccharine teen melodrama that was the first movie, this follow-up's satire of politics as it is played out in Singapore is an improvement.

To be clear, writer-director Jack Neo does not lampoon politicians. His target is political behaviour in Singapore, in particular, its performative side - the doorstops and baby-kissing, reporters schooling like fish around hopefuls on walkabouts and, of course, the election rallies.

Neo fills the time with satirical bits about the small absurdities of the election cycle, such as bewildered shopkeepers and fishmongers roped in to be props in photos, arranged for candidates vying to look more in touch with the common folk than their opponents.

These skits are woven into a story set during the 1988 General Election. Following the events of the first movie, the perpetually disgruntled Ah Kun (Mark Lee) decides to form his own opposition party to fight policies such as the sidelining of those schooled in the Chinese education system.

Against the advice of friends and family, he forms a multiracial team with Osman (Suhaimi Yusof), Sharmugam (Silvarajoo Prakasam) and others.

While some skits are funny, others are trenchant and a couple are both. One has to endure the usual Neo-isms - punchlines underscored with sound and visual effects (no sad trombone or record scratch this time, but something new and just as annoying), maudlin moments set to sad musical breaks and overly long cross-talk segments.

Despite these flaws, the film's relative coherence and sense of purpose make it feel like the movie Neo had really intended to make. The first movie now looks mostly like a nostalgic filler.

Do not expect a broadside against politics and politicians and you should not be disappointed. A work of social realism this is not. The main targets of the humour are the wannabes played by Lee, Henry Thia and Wang Lei, who are so outlandishly vain and wrong-headed that they cannot represent anything real.

ENDGAME (PG13)

119 minutes, opens tomorrow

2 stars

The title comes from a play of the same name by revered Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. A reference to it appears in this China-Hong Kong comedy-thriller in the final act.

What does a play about the pointlessness of human existence have to do with a story about a hitman and a jobless actor? Beyond it being a cool reference, not much. Perhaps there was more, left on the cutting floor.

In any case, this messily edited switched-identity thriller is fond of pointing out that criminal activity and theatre both use the same set of skills.

Chen Xiaomeng (Chinese actor Xiao Yang) is a broke, out-of-work actor. In a men's spa, a freak accident causes suave, wealthy assassin Zhou Quan (Hong Kong star Andy Lau) to lose his memory. Xiaomeng steals his identity. But along with Zhou's swanky apartment and money, the actor also picks up the hitman's contracts, which are brokered with dangerous people.

Meanwhile, Zhou, believing he is Xiaomeng, struggles to make a living as an extra and along the way becomes friends with single mother and marketing executive Li Xiang (Chinese actress Wan Qian).

After a promising opening, marked by stylish action, bleak humour and a cool soundtrack, director Rao Xiaozhi loses his grip.

The middle and final sections collapse into gooey romantic drama, made worse by the premise that single mothers like Li are incomplete unless a "good" man like Zhou enters the picture.

This is pure speculation, but maybe when Lau signed on as actor, what could have been a taut, stylish thriller was rewritten to plump up his character's screen time and likeability.

After the bloated middle section comes a rushed final act, with hanging threads wrapped up with a title card and high-brow references to the art of acting that go nowhere.

DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 3 (PG13)

135 minutes, opens on Saturday, not reviewed

The third in the action-comedy movie series is set in Tokyo. Detectives Tangren (Wang Baoqiang) and Qinfeng (Liu Haoren), aided by a local cop (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and a Thai one (Tony Jaa), hope to solve the case of a murdered businessman.

DRAGON RIDER (PG)

92 minutes, opens today, not reviewed

German writer Cornelia Funke's best-selling children's book of the same name gets the animation treatment. The film features the voices of Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Felicity Jones, Freddie Highmore and Patrick Stewart.

In a land where dragons are an endangered species, young dragon Firedrake (Brodie-Sangster) hopes to find the Rim of Heaven, a haven spoken of in lore where his kind can find safety.

A WRITER'S ODYSSEY (NC16)

130 minutes, opens tomorrow, not reviewed

Adapted from the Chinese novel of the same name, the epic fantasy begins in the real world.

Writer Lu Kongwen (Dong Zijian) has penned novels about a dark overlord and the mythical world he rules. Then, the walls between the real and fantasy worlds come down, and soon, assassins are sent to make sure the author does not complete his work.

TOM & JERRY (PG)

101 minutes, opens today, not reviewed

This feature-length, live-action version of the beloved television cartoon has Tom and Jerry doing what they do best - playing cat and mouse with each other.

When Jerry the mouse takes up residence in a swanky New York hotel, its staff - played by Rob Delaney, Chloe Grace Moretz, Michael Pena and Ken Jeong - turn to Tom the cat for help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2021, with the headline 'Political satire and switched identities'. Subscribe