Jack Neo thinks an MRT train on fire is beautiful

From ‘Jack Neo criticised for comments made on blog’, 9 Sept 2011, article in asiaone.com

Actor-director Jack Neo has once again come under fire, this time, for comments made on his blog regarding the latest vandalism case at Singapore Mass Rapid Transit’s (SMRT) Bishan depot.

…Members of the public had called the news hotline to complain about Neo’s “offensive” post which they felt was in poor-taste. In his approximately 1,200-word post, Neo described what could happen if the vandal had managed to hide an explosive in one of the carriages. He expressed in Chinese how “beautiful” the image of a train on fire would be, “barbecueing” its passengers as it hurtles along.

Readers of the Chinese daily responded angrily to the comment, saying that if that were to happen, it would be a tragedy. They also questioned how he could treat the subject so lightly. He goes on to say the incident must be “hard on SMRT’s chief executive officer who had to shoulder all the blame”, and the “rational public” should sympathise with her.

Neo continued, “The CEO has so many things on her plate, and she needs to handle ‘strange’ incidents as well. Like when someone falls on the tracks, or if someone gets caught in between the train doors. Or, if someone chooses to jump on to the tracks to end his life; this happened once before and the family received alot of money…”

To that, a reader said that “as the CEO of the company, of course she (Ms Saw Phaik Hwa) would have to apologise, why should we take pity on her?”

As for the suicide cases, Neo was criticised for being “insensitive” by bringing up the amount donated to the family of the deceased. Said Mr Tan, 50, a taxi driver: “Was he drunk? What he said was very irresponsible.”

Having been in hiding for too long and away from directorial work, it was only natural for Jack Neo to overdramatise a blog post probably intended to be satirical in nature than anything else.  As a Cultural Medallion winner however, he may have crossed the line with the bad timing and jibes at a certain amputated Thai teen’s misadventure on the MRT tracks in view of the flurry of national sympathy following the incident.  Perhaps Jack was obsessing over a comeback plot in mind when he was writing this, his first big budget action thriller and a long awaited return to film making, though any attempt at high octane espionage and suspense would be let down by Jack’s tendency to ruin his movies with ridiculous titles. ‘Where got BOMB?’ and ‘I Not Terrorist’ come to mind. Hit the road, Jack, you’re better off behind a camera than posing as a ‘keyboard warrior’.

If you stop to think about it, it wouldn’t make sense for a terrorist to spray paint an MRT train before proceeding to load it with explosives. Firstly, the anti-establishment mischief of the modern graffiti movement is incompatible with the murderous evil-doing of terrorists.  And it would be dumb to mark a rigged MRT train with graffiti to alert authorities to it in the first place. But here’s a brief but confused history of graffiti in Singapore, from its humble beginnings as plain naughtiness to government endorsed prank to terrorist calling card:

Sometime from the mid 70’s to early 80’s, graffiti was part of a vandal complex of what most would deem flagrant misbehaviour. It wasn’t a global movement or recognised as art in any form, and was  used by naughty kids rather than bohemians with tattoos and cool girlfriends. HDB lifts and void deck walls bore the brunt of the mischief, where instead of anarchic protests or heavy metal logos you have the likes of Carpenter song titles instead.

Vandals listen to the Carpenters

IN 1989, a rocky embankment on the Marina Promenade was vandalised with love messages by amorous vandals. These etchings of passion and rejection, rather than the elaborate, decorative fonts we see today, are now the lingua franca of Facebookers and bloggers. Which is good news for cleaners; love-hate graffiti on the back of bus seats, even sexual come-ons on toilet walls, have declined considerably in recent memory.

Graffiti became a hot-button issue that strained international ties with the Michael Fay incident in 1994. It also made the nation famous for all the wrong reasons, with the rotan becoming a symbol of our ‘barbaric’ justice system. However, it would soon turn out that it’s not just celebrities like Jack Neo who were starting to ‘take graffiti lightly’. In 2004, Today newspaper took it upon themselves to digitally ‘vandalise’ a billboard in front of the National Museum as part of an April Fool’s Joke with the words ‘Casino coming here’. This was when graffiti was catching on as something ‘funky’ and ‘hip’, though the public apparently didn’t get it (and still doesn’t get it till this day). They probably thought Michael Fay was back in town up to no good.

It’s ironic that also around the mid 2000s, graffiti was used as an intimidation tool by loansharks, with ‘O$P$’ becoming a uniquely Singaporean shorthand symbol for extortion. Until recent years, loansharks merely splashed paint or planted the proverbial pig’s head at one’s doorstep. The O$P$ meme turned out to be a quick, effective means of delivering a threat when erstwhile one had to write ‘So-and-so owes us money. Pay now or suffer!’. It turned from a playful fad to a hounding public threat.


In 2009, a vandal later diagnosed as schizophrenic scribbled  ‘Hi, Harry lee I Love you’ on  an entrance wall outside Parliament House. Though outwardly hilarious it could also have been interpreted as a form of lowest-denominator political sarcasm.  Or it could have just have been a smitten member of the PA professing his love for the man-god. If not for the quality and context of this misdemeanour, it would have otherwise been a audacious intrusion into the political sphere, a civil disobedience of Berlin Wall proportions.


Just to trivialise graffiti further, Singpost created a public furore by launching a series of mailbox ‘vandalism’ as part of a ‘viral marketing’ campaign in conjunction with the YOG in 2010, to spark greater awareness of ‘creativity and self-expression’ in the spirit of the Games. Commissioned graffiti as being ‘out of the box’ and ‘innovative’ is a glaring contradiction to what our penal system spells out about defacing public property, a case of mixed signals  relayed by the Government on whether graffiti is ‘hipster art’ or a ‘punishable crime’.

Alas, in the same year, Swiss Oliver Fricker set the record straight by exposing the SMRT security system and spraying ‘Mckoy Banos’ on a docked train, a piece of work which the current ‘Jet Setter’s’ graffiti spree seemed to borrow heavily from. As much as graffiti fans would laud the audacity and talent of these offenders, it didn’t stop graffiti from henceforth being linked to acts of terror, when the Fricker stunt was really a slap in the face of the authorities for initially making a mockery of graffiti art while trying to act cool. Not a squeak from the authorities about Fricker’s work being ‘out of the box’ though, and everyone will agree that the defaced MRT looks way better than an amateurishly ‘defaced’ mailbox below, which resembles the slipshod work of loansharks rather than paid artists. Whether it’s a psychotic ode to the MM, street art, a marketing gimmick or a political statement, graffiti is exhibitionism par excellence, and thrives only because people take notice of it.

4 Responses

  1. […] Mediacorp’s Election Coverage Let Off With a Light Touch – Everything Also Complain: Jack Neo thinks an MRT train on fire is beautiful – Alvinlogy: On SAF and Mobile Phones with No Camera Features – A Reporter’s Memoir: NO HARD […]

  2. Why don’t he go and die?

  3. […] questions to ponder… On what context is his poetry about (here’s an article that might sum up the events leading to his poetry)? What explains the hullabaloo among […]

  4. […] the article omitted was that the fate of the previous Bishan depot vandals who painted ‘Jet Setter’s’ remains unknown to this day. I’m also surprised to read that […]

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