The 2017 Life Power List

Steady march to the box-office summit


15 Jack Neo, film-maker, 57

This is Neo's fifth appearance on the Life Power List, but it looks like he will be here several more times if he keeps making his hugely popular Ah Boys To Men military comedies.

This year, he returns because his Ah Boys To Men 4 movie earned $4.3 million after just under three weeks of release in Singapore, making it the top-earning Asian film of the year here.

It opened on Nov 9 and is still in cinemas.

Neo, who directed and co-wrote the film, did not reply to a request for an interview.

He is in the midst of filming his 2018 release, which will feature him playing the housewife character of Liang Xi Mei that he made popular on the Mediacorp variety show, Comedy Tonight.

That his Ah Boys comedy has done well at the box office should come as more than a financial victory to Neo: It was mired in criticism during production and then criticised again after its release.

Actor Shrey Bhargava in May posted on Facebook that he was asked to portray a caricature version of an Indian during his Ah Boys audition, resulting in media scrutiny of Neo's production.

Then, on its release, critics tore into its lack of structure and intrusive product placements.

Still, Neo remains bulletproof and even his non-Ah Boys movies do well: For example, the two-parter Long Long Time Ago (2016) both made good ticket sales (a combined total of more than $6 million).

When he calls in his men and women in green, the question is not whether he breaks even - it is whether the box office will break some new record.

John Lui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Steady march to the box-office summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe