Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The Stars: KK, Luke, Mindee Ong, Alaric Tay, Henry Thia, Benjamin Heng.
The Story: Jiang Man Da (KK) and Lu Ye Chang (Luke) are a pair of prima donna DJs who seemingly have it all; fame, money and matching egos to boot. But their ivory tower comes crashing down after a heated altercation with a high-strung lady boss, and the duo are forced to look for new jobs. Utterly humiliated by countless rejections and armed with piles of bills to pay, they decide to attend a public audition for a new radio station. The catch? Only older folks need apply. To complicate matters further, the program director (Mindee Ong) happens to be Man Da’s childhood crush, and she’s dealing with other jealous-boyfriend (Alaric Tay) issues of her own. Desperate for work, the two enlist style-help from a long-time friend/fashion savant (Benjamin Heng) to transform themselves into charming old ladies. Much to the pair’s delight, they wind up employed by the station. Hilarity ensues as they try to keep up their disguises, while simultaneously attempting to stay true to themselves and to the people they love.
The Buzz: Lelio Popo is a joint venture between Malaysia and Singapore’s Clover Films, which also boasts a cross-border cast. Shot entirely in Malaysia, the film is helmed by first-time director Adrian Teh, who previously produced Malaysian singer Ah Niu’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love.
inSing.com thinks: It’s hard to mercilessly skewer a film which looks like so much fun, and that’s exactly the premise of Lelio Popo – a movie that unabashedly celebrates slapstick humor. Yes, the gags come off more than a little cheap sometimes, the story reeks of over-the-top stereotypes and delivers a plot with such a humdrum ending you saw it coming 10 minutes into the opening sequence (watch out for a completely uncalled for tragedy arch). But the cinematography is nostalgically gorgeous and quirky, the sets and soundtrack are tinged with an authentic old-school flavour that’s positively enchanting, and to top it off the cast turn in charismatic, if slightly diluted, performances.
KK and Luke, already prominent radio celebrities in real life, bring their own local brand of chemistry and wit to the table. They cruise easily through most of the film, and silliness notwithstanding, we never linger long enough to get truly sick of their, or anyone else’s antics – physical comedy is frequently balanced with quick, poignant snippets (there are important moral lessons to be learnt), some amusing cross-dressing jaunts well-played by a virtually unrecognizable Heng and snapshots of Tay being very mean, which is an inspiring diversion from his emblematic goofball roles. Ong is her natural cute, button-nosed self, although you can’t help but feel she’s pulling back her usual emotional panache. Even Thia is shockingly less annoying in his cameo as Ong’s free-spirited father.
Unlike Jack Neo’s legendary Liang Po Po or Dennis Chew’s vivacious Auntie Lucy, the cross-dressing leads in Lelio Popo are rougher round the edges, and markedly more relatable – a trait that needs to be a trending topic in all local films hereafter.