From ‘Ah Boys to Men is Bad for SAF’ and ‘Why promote pre-marital sex’, 30 Nov 2012, Voices, Today
(Vanessa Tai): I recently watched Ah Boys to Men with my parents and younger brother, who is undergoing National Service. Like other Jack Neo films, the humour was slapstick and littered with Hokkien expletives. Those jokes were tolerable, but the misogynistic script was unbearable. For example, the recruits referred to women as “clothing that can be easily discarded” in a bid to cheer up one of the recruits who had been dumped.
Another example was a sergeant showing his recruits how to tear a certain leaf in order to form the shape of female genitals. Perhaps Mr Neo is accurately representing army life, but there is no value in such distasteful jokes. From what I understand, such banter is commonplace in the army, and while most guys do not hold sexist views, they play along so as not to be ostracised, which is a shame. Such behaviour should not be accepted as the norm.
A first-class military is not one that is just well armed or well trained in combat. A first-class military – in fact, a first-class society – is an egalitarian one that treats each member with respect, regardless of sex or socio-economic background. The Singapore Armed Forces is moving into a Third Generation, with greater emphasis on nurturing and engaging each soldier, which is a step in the right direction. However, more can be done to improve the image of our soldiers. Ah Boys to Men is a caricature, yes, but with many impressionable young men watching it, my worry is that Mr Neo’s careless stereotypes may undo a lot of the SAF’s good work.
(Goh Lee Hwa):As a mother, I am perturbed that Mr Jack Neo (picture) is endorsing pre-marital sex, in the scene where a guy told his girlfriend that he must have it before enlistment, or else the angels in “heaven” would laugh at him should he die during National Service. We parents are trying to discourage such practices, yet Mr Neo is endorsing it. That scene was uncalled for.
Careless, MDA. You’ve banned another local film for insulting Indians but clearly forgot about a film from a celebrated director that puts our entire ARMY to shame. Thanks to Jack Neo, now we know our boys are NOT writing letters to their loved ones, singing camp songs or playing carom in their bunk in their spare time, but trading sexist jokes, boasting about stealing their girlfriends’ virginity away or playing with ‘CB’ leaves. They also shouldn’t get drunk, steal rifles, cry like woosies in field camp, smoke cigarettes or have their maids carry backpacks for them. All that sort of loutish behaviour would surely do our military in. Leaves as sex paraphernalia instead of camouflaging against the enemy. The cheek!
Yes, our SAF has done a remarkable job of keeping Singapore SO safe we’ve never suffered a single war since its inception. Thanks to our army grooming responsible, ‘egalitarian’ citizens out of rough jewels, we’ll never have to worry about the same men beating women about, having sex with underage prostitutes, cheating on their wives, surfing porn or exchanging sex for favours even if they’re head honchos of key public institutions. How could you, Jack Neo. Why can’t you stick to making I NOT STUPID sequels, and portray students as suicidal depressives instead? That would be accurate, at least.
But seriously, why pick on Jack Neo when there are so many other movies out there which insult both sexes and plug stereotypes about young horny men? Does the writer think Jack Neo is a ‘role model’ for Singaporean boys? This guy cross-dresses like a grandmother for God’s sake. Boys are not going to watch Ah Boys to Men to PREPARE for army, or even for the humour. They would rather accompany their teenage girlfriends to watch the Breaking Dawn finale, and then hope that she returns some hot lovin’ for their painful sacrifice. No, Ah Boys to Men is likely to be a fave of Jack Neo’s staple audience, heartland uncles and aunties, and perhaps the entire singing crew of A Nation’s March. There are, of course, more important things to be worried about than SAF turning your boy into a Hokkien-spewing wife-beater. You’d better hope that he comes out of it ALIVE with his sanity and limbs intact, and lungs not permanently scarred from inhaling grenade smoke.
Any army boy booking out to spend their weekends seeing a whitewashed version of army reality is simply wasting his time. He’d rather polish boots than swallow cheap comic-relief stereotypes about potty mouthed drill sergeants, the mummy’s boy who can’t do a single pull-up and gets bullied by everybody until his geekiness saves the day, and of course the effeminate sissy afraid to damage his nails but dons the best camouflage skills in the platoon. The original NS movie Army Daze had all that, and those horrible ‘misogynistic’ stuff too. In one scene, the word ‘sexbomb’ was used to describe a soldier’s girlfriend. Even the Indian recruit had an exaggerated accent.
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Resorting to bawdy humour is inevitable if you want to produce any sort of local army film given the constraints. Which is a waste as Jack could have pulled off something more ambitious without recycling the same old stock characters. You don’t need Jack Neo to EDUCATE young Singaporeans on what to expect in the army, just like you can’t prepare a woman for giving birth by watching ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’. He’s a businessman first and entertainer second, and the trailer alone has formulaic product placement and government approval written all over it. I haven’t watched the film myself, but for all its alleged heartfelt pandering to Total Defence, I think it could have redeemed itself with some badass aliens or mutant zombies. Or maybe an angry horde of striking PRC bus workers. Otherwise I can’t think of any homemade action movie which involved anything beyond a car flipping over and exploding on cue. But there’s hope because Ah Boys to Men Part 2 is coming soon FYI.
Our boys, being moulded into THINKING SOLDIERS as part of the 3G philosophy, should know better. Not thinking about sex, that is. I’m not sure what’s a more dangerous misconception though; that our army is actually READY for bloody battle, or that it’s a MONASTERY that preaches equality to all humankind.
Postscript: Hoping to be proven wrong, I rented the Ah Boys to Men DVD. The slo-mo panning of SAF slogans as the boys walked through the ferry terminal to Tekong could give one nausea before even boarding the boat. The much hyped war scene was packed with special effects that could match high-octane monster films like MEGASHARK vs CROCOSAURUS. The cast, however, saved the movie and kept it entertaining. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the sequel would have less propaganda and more character development, though a climax involving the Ah Boys learning to appreciate NS and becoming Best Buddies Forever seems to be a foregone conclusion.