Director Jack Neo is back again. His latest movie, ‘The Lion Men’, has pundits are predicting that he will once again rule the Chinese New Year box office.
The action-comedy revolves around competing lion dance troupes, and stars Tosh Zhang and Wang Wei Liang as lion dance troupe buddies who eventually become rivals.
They are joined by ‘Ah Boy To Men’ cast members Maxi Lim, Noah Yap and Charlie Goh.
Chen Tian Wen, Jasper Lai, Bao Er Cong and Ngeow Zijie, and Chinese actress Eva Cheng round out the cast.
Inspiration for ‘The Lion Men’
Neo first conceived the idea of ‘The Lion Men’ because he was inspired by the lion dance sequences in Tsui Hark’s ‘Once Upon A Time in China Part 3’ many years ago.
It has been many years since a contemporary movie has been made about lion dance, and Neo is very serious about doing things differently, introducing many new ideas of filming lion dance and action sequences.
And he thought it was fitting to transform the boys from the ABTM movies into ‘The Lion Men’ as he observed that the young men in the travelling lion dance troupes display a brotherhood and camaraderie very much like that of platoon mates in the army.
Intensive training and action sequences
It was no easy task, as the entire young cast had to undergo three months of intensive martial arts and lion dance training. Even actor Wang Wei Liang, who had practiced lion dance for eight years, fell while attempting difficult stunts on high pillars and injured himself.
Tosh Zhang, who plays the role of Shi Shen, the fearless leading disciple, actually had a fear of heights and was screaming when he was first hoisted more than three meters high in the air.
Even Eva Cheng was not spared. She suffered abrasions from the tight wire rigging around her body. When asked if she fitted in with the gang, Cheng who is from China and acting in her first Singapore movie, replied that she was really well taken care of by the predominantly male cast and crew. Wang quickly added that she was treated like ‘one of the boys’ after the ice was broken, and had fun filming with her male cast.
Surprises from Jack Neo
Actress Eva Cheng. Photo: Zaki Jufri
Director Jack Neo is known to ‘surprise’ his cast and crew by changing his script and shooting sequences unannounced.
One of the little ‘surprises’ of this movie was to make the romantic leads Zhang and Chang kiss each other in a tight close up, which was not in the script initially.
Initially nervous about their first on-screen kiss, both actors went ahead. According to Zhang, the romantic scenes are still much easier to do compared to the action scenes, and it took them just seven to eight takes to get it right.
The NG King
Maxi Lim, who plays Wang’s buddy in the movie, is given the dubious title of the NG King (“NG” stands for a no-good take).
Lim once had to do a scene for a record 43 takes, because he kept fluffing his lines (of only six words), as he was feeling under the weather.
Co-star Noah Yap who is not proficient in Mandarin, tends to improvise and change his lines mid-sentence into English, incurring the wrath of the director. Although at the end of the shoot, Neo did give Yap credit for improving vastly in the delivery of his lines since ‘Ah Boys to Men’.
Whose role is it anyway?
Both Goh and Yap wanted to play Lim’s ‘Babyface’ role, as it was a fun role with lots of potential. Lim and Zhang on the other hand wanted to play Wang’s role as his character shows the most emotions in the movie.
Wang said that he wanted to take up Zhang’s role of Shi Shen as he felt that he felt that his self-deprecating ‘villainous’ face lent itself naturally to the character.
It has been ten years since veteran actor Chen Tian Wen, who plays the boys’ master, last acted in an action comedy role. And this role was such a huge contrast from his dramatic role in the award-winning ‘Ilo Ilo’. Chen cheekily answered that if given the chance, he would next like to play a psychopathic killer.
‘The Lion Men’ soundtrack
Tosh Zhang once again contributes to the movie soundtrack, co-writing the lyrics of the movie theme song with Jack Neo, and is the lead rapper.
Wang, an experienced getai performer, gets to sing soulful ballads, together with newcomer Bao Er Cong, who also had some solo performances in the movie soundtrack.
When asked if they are seriously also considering a career in music, both Zhang and Wang said they are definitely working towards it.
According to Zhang, they are constantly helping each other improve, with him teaching Wang to rap and Wang helping Zhang with his vocals.
Charlie Goh quipped that they could be like K-pop super group Bigbang, and judging by the current popularity and strong camaraderie of the boys, it does seem that nothing could hold them back.