19 February 2007 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Just Follow Law
Jack Neo is undoubtedly Singapore's most commercially successful director, having made 10 films (including this one), and almost each time, you'd hear his movies topping the charts and breaking box office records. His films touch the common heartlander chord with his fusion of satire and subtle jabs at topical issues, much akin to his skits during his Comedy Night days, and given a huge fan base built, it's no surprise if local audiences turn up in hordes to lap up his latest offering which set its sights on the civil service.
Almost everyone can identify with the frustrations of red tape bureaucracy, that incident of unpleasantness with staff in their less than helpful robotic stick-to-the-rulebook answers, and of course, attempts to shift responsibility and cover their rears. Wait! Doesn't that sound familiar, like what every other company employee will do as well? For the first twenty minutes, it's recounting office politics 101 with spot on accuracy, jazzed up by some special effects, as every tactic in the office politic arsenal get brought out to the table.
The story is set in a fictitious government body which is tasked to create jobs and encourage skills upgrading. But the fact is that almost everyone in the department needs a serious upgrade and look at themselves. You can spot the inept CEO, the conniving scheming colleagues, the unskilled miscellaneous workers, the bootlickers, and the elite scholars all having a go at each other. And at times when you laugh at their antics, somehow you're wondering if you're laughing at yourselves, especially when you recall incidents you experienced, or characters whom you see in others.
While the idea was there, the delivery was somehow let down. It played out quite childishly, and looked more like mini school skits put together in a very choppy manner. You don't fault the number of ideas the story writers have, but rather at their inability to gel them all together into an engaging narrative from start until end. At times you might think you're watching a tele-movie plagued by too many minor characters, each being a one- dimensional mouth piece for the issues they represent.
Casting Fann Wong was a coup, as she's one of the top darlings of Caldecott Hill. And one of the appeal in watching the movie, is to see how she junks her glamorous goody-two-shoes image, for a comedic role requiring her to act like a siao char bor (mad woman). And she pulled it off with aplomb, which is what manages to hold the attention of the audience. She burbs, farts, frequently molests herself by grabbing her boobs, walks like a beng, talks like a beng, swears like a beng too. According to reports, her minders got into fits with her role as Tanya Chew the scholar manager, who got her body swapped with Gurmit Singh's Lim Teng Zui, a lowly employee, as it called for her to act against her image. Well, she sure have thrown caution to the wind and it turned out well, but I thought she could have gone further, instead of having to rely on cheap editing tricks.
If Fann Wong acting like a man raised interest, the same couldn't be said for Gurmit's role as a woman, as it sure isn't like Mrs Doubtfire or Tootsie. It's relatively muted, and when the pairs on screen together, there is no doubt as to who is the movie star, with Fann giving the veteran comedian a run for his money. Although they have some chemistry together, I thought the story and dialogue sometimes lapsed into the two characters being their correct selves instead of their swapped ones. The other supporting characters are played by the usual faces from television, and are caricatures requiring
As mentioned earlier, scenes are usually made out of mini skits which try to be funny in itself, and then glued together with the lazy fade out transitions for the most parts. While there is a resemblance of a main plot, the subplots display meek attempts at comedy, or stick out like a sore thumb trying to shovel its social message down your throats, at times presenting itself awkwardly in out of place scenes. Being a Jack Neo movie, product placement is never far away, and in his latest offering, there are plenty of opportunities for product placement, which are milked to the max, one of which I thought was a mistake in having Fann seen in an advert. Jack too can't help but to put himself in a cameo, and hammering referential jabs in the script at the government (66.6% for a test out of 84, it doesn't come across any clearer than that).
The production values seem mixed though. Despite being budgeted at more than a million dollars, the look and feel at times seem like a million dollars, and at times, just felt cheap. There are a lot of special effects put into the movie, and that probably took a huge chunk from the budget, as did Fann Wong's paycheck. The effects though were rather surreal which brought out some fantastical feelings about the movie, and were also used as substitutes for obvious stunts or backdrops that proved relatively costly to make. For once, I was of the opinion that the songs in the movie weren't necessary as they failed to elicit or enhance the mood of the scene, and was there a recycling attempt at using one of the songs from an earlier film?
Just Follow Law will do well, given Fann's against-the-grain role, something audiences would not have seen before, and the fact that it's opening this Lunar New Year period. Fans of Fann, and the usual support base of Jack Neo, will definitely make this movie a hit. A pity that it could have been much better.