Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
The Stars: Afdlin Shauki, Aniu, Jack Neo, Mark Lee, Huang Wenhong, Jacelyn Tay, Rebecca Lim, Koet Yeet
The Story: Three intertwining stories – both sides of the Causeway – follow a mother-and-son (Jack Neo, Aniu), a husband and wife (Huang Wenhong, Rebecca Lim) and chef and his daughter (Mark Lee, Koet Yeet) as they have family and reunion dinner on their minds on the eve of Chinese New Year.
The Buzz: In Singapore, the buzz will likely focus on Neo making his comeback after his high-profile scandal last year. Here, he returns to drag, reprising an ‘auntie’ role not dissimilar to one of the characters he popularised on a now-defunct Chinese variety show. In Malaysia, the buzz will more likely be on popular singer-actor Aniu, young starlet Yeet, and the immense talents of funnyman Afdlin Shauki.
Directed by Lee Thean-jeen, this heart-warming comedy is impressively well-balanced, with the three stories deftly juggled and all the characters sparkling with life. On the face of things, and judged by the trailer, this was purportedly one of those typically Chinese New Year comedies, with expectation of dialect jokes, slapstick humour and countless lowest-common-denominator soliloquies to explain character motivations and the plot.
In truth, this film was pleasantly atypical. The script is richly entertaining, with the cast clearly onboard with the overall vibe and tone of the storyline, and the characters are handled with obvious affection. And it is a multi-lingual film that doesn’t marginalise or poke fun at non-Chinese characters – something local cinema has been guilty of before.
Say what you will about Jack Neo – love him or hate him, he is indisputably a true comic icon, also a decent actor, and he shines here playing the fussy, put-upon mother dragging her inert son to her relatives’ home in Kuala Lumpur for reunion dinner. Their “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” portion of this film is best described as a buddy-road movie hybrid – it is also the most eventful and fun among the three stories.
Lee’s prima donna chef character, with his heavy Malaysia accent and French pretence, is jocular without being annoying, while the sweet Yeet and affable Shauki really capture the eye – as a young girl estranged from family, she’s the emotional core of the film; meanwhile, he’s a Jack Black-like comic force of nature who spreads infectious mirth.
All in all, the film isn’t preachy or overbearing. The direction and pacing comes off as well-measured, and it feels genuine and possesses real heart. After a deluge of Christmas and Asian holiday fare that don’t hit home, this film – despite less fanfare and lustre – actually does make a connection.