Rating: 1 star out of 5
Apparently, what many Singaporeans don’t know about Phua Chu Kang is that while he’s passé in Singapore, he has a big following in Malaysia.
A group of mainly Malaysian companies have thus come together to produce Phua Chu Kang The Movie. One wishes they had just left the yellow-booted contractor alone in oblivion.
Phua Chu Kang (Gurmit Singh) is no longer the best contractor in Singapore. He’s moved up to KL, along with his wife Rosie (Irene Ang) and drives a silver Mercedes Benz. He picks up his mother (Neo Swee Lin) and she promptly disappears as the Phuas visit a mall.
He locates her at a retirement home run by Lim Lau Pek (Henry Thia), who lures Phua to do some renovation work for the home by dangling the prospect of a multi-million-dollar deal on other retirement homes throughout the country.
Sibling Phua Chu Beng and his wife Margaret (played by Pierre Png and Tan Kheng Hua in the Singapore series) do not make an appearance in this film, but Chu Kang’s rival Frankie Foo (Lim Kay Siu) does pop in, competing with PCK for the job of building the next wave of retirement homes.
Don’t dwell too much on the plot. It’s filled with holes and gradually comes apart by the end of the film as Lim, predictably, is exposed to be a fraud.
Director Boris Boo (Where Got Ghost?) has realised the script of Phua Chu Kang series scribe S M Ong as a workmanlike effort, and even though he employs a scattershot approach – just fire jokes in great volume all over the place, rhyme or reason be damned – the humour thoroughly misses the mark.
Obnoxious sound cues triple-underline every failed gag, and most of the jokes are made of slapstick or weak wordplay. Some gags date back to the silent-era Keystone Kops days – and were better executed way back then.
Some of the sequences could be farcical, but Boo does not have the chops to mine them. For example, a woman tries to dump her sick mother into PCK’s care by telling him she’s Ah Ma.
It’s hard to wring any humour from the topic of parent dumping, but these days, in the age of taboo-busting comedians like Sacha Baron Cohen, it is possible. But Gurmit is not a skilled-enough comedian to pull it off. The result is a scene that’s unnaturally cruel and painful to watch.
The movie takes a clumsy stab at parent-dumping, but never really tries to get any satirical mileage out of the issue. Meanwhile, the differences between Malaysians and Singaporeans could have also generated many opportunities at humour.
In their own right, Gurmit and Ang are both good comedians, and Neo is one of my favourite performers, but there’s little point of having good comic timing when there’s no humour in the material. Gurmit has to rely on his exaggerated mispronunciation (can we say skills?) and staple catch-phrases to try to get laughs, a definite sign of desperation.
The film, fortunately, does come off looking much better than the original TV series, a compliment akin to the Ms Congeniality prize at a pageant. Fans of the series – and I mean really diehard fans – might enjoy this effort, while those folks unfamiliar with it will probably find the film a torturous affair. As a nominal fan, I suffered.
A pointless double ending finishes the film, and the credits indicate there’ll be a sequel. If that’s the case, then the biggest joke here might really be on the audience.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.