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Ah Girls Go Army
Photograph: MM2 Entertainment

I watched Ah Girls Go Army so nobody has to

You didn't miss out on anything

Delfina Utomo
Written by
Delfina Utomo

It all started as a joke between friends. Generally, we have a high tolerance for really bad films and TV shows. Every few years we revisit the film The Room – famously known for being the worst movie ever – and we have a blast. I know I'm mentally strong because I sat through an Ah Boys To Men marathon voluntarily (did you know there were four films?) and survived. When it was announced in late 2021 that Jack Neo would be directing Ah Girls Go Army, a film that would be released during the Lunar New Year period in 2022, my friends and I already knew we were going to watch it for research purposes. 

Even before we stepped into the theatre, we were faced with a fair bit of judgement. When paying for our snacks, the cashier asked what we were going to watch. Our reply was met with a chuckle and sort of disapproving head shake. That's okay, we've gone through more awkward moments, and there's no way we were going to survive this two-hour movie without some sustenance. 120 minutes, one Fanta Grape drink and a cup of fried sausages (it's a thing at The Cathay) later, I just had so many questions. 

Isn't hustle culture toxic now?

Of course I know that sponsors play a huge part in funding especially when it comes to making a movie. But if you're familiar with the mise-en-scène of Jack Neo, it is far from subtle. In the two hours, I felt like I was watching a chaotic Facebook Live video of someone selling me products I never want – or have – to buy. From anti-mosquito wall paint to an alkaline water dispenser, a voice-control Osim massage chair to vitamin pills that will keep your skin fair because god forbid, tanned skin is undesirable, there are more items up for sale here than at my local supermarket over CNY. No one hustles harder, I guess?  

Is this a joke?

If you're familiar with Jack Neo's films – I must admit the only other ones I've seen is the Ah Boys To Men collection – then the low brow humour is characteristic of his repertoire. Ah Girls Go Army is Neo's first film that is mostly in English but there are still plenty of "jokes" that went over my head at first – like how 'yuan' also means round, which means that not only does the only plus-sized recruit get a literal name but it had to be repeated thrice – yup, her name is Yuan Yuan Yuan.

Another recruit is called Goh Bee Bee which is short for GBB which means 'Go by (the) book'. I didn't even know this was a thing but thanks for educating me I guess. Before the movie was released, Jack Neo himself also had to make an apology when the public caught on that the character transgender actress Kelly Kimberly Cheong was portraying is called 'Amanda Man' – which was later changed to Amanda Ong. The rich-girl-with-a-kind-heart character Princess See warranted a lot of laughs from the audience because it relied on her being ultra naive and a lowbrow character (despite being rich), and mispronouncing words because of her thick Singlish (??? – what even was it) accent. 

Then there was the whole theme of the movie that seemed to revolve around 'taking initiative'. Late into the movie, Princess See realises that everyone has their own way of turning up for one another and hence, taking initiative. Deep. By then, my brain was in autopilot mode and no longer processing any more plot developments and the bountiful product placements. 

Who is writing these characters?

Somewhere between the first product placement (foodpanda delivery, I think) and my brain going into screensaver mode, something about the movie made me highly uncomfortable and it was the way that the women were treated. Not only were these characters caricatures and stereotypes of women, whoever wrote them has no idea what it's like being a woman. While the movie refrained from objectifying women, the dialogue and the plot feels a little condescending. The OG Ah Boys To Men characters returned as seemingly macho men who had paid their dues during their time in NS – character development I guess – but the women recruits were spoken to, were treated, and acted like children, and some of them spoke in childish or child-like voices. 

And when it wasn't the forced naive mannerisms, the character of Recruit Joey was portrayed as a overdramatic, ultra clingy, pseudo stalker after being dumped by her partner. Later on, it led to her attempting suicide from the roof. There's no doubt this movie is somewhat a hot mess but that scene sorely stood out and her character arc was dealt in poor taste. The 'crazy jilted woman' trope and inserting slapstick humour in a suicide scene is definitely a new low. 

Also, who the heck calls their father Daddy King???

By now, it is clear that this movie is not going to make it to anyone's Movie of The Year list but I could see why people would still go to watch Ah Girls Go Army. Unless you're a Jack Neo stan (seriously, are there any?), it's almost surreal to experience this movie. When I left the theatre, I was still confused if what I had seen had any ironic value – I doubt it. It really seems that Jack Neo and Co. had truly believed that they had put out a good movie. 

Take Tosh Zhang from the OG cast for example, who went on social media slamming the haters. As of now, the movie has gone on to make over $1.6 million in the box office in its opening week – an amount that he's clearly proud of. He also adds on to say that "results and numbers don't lie." 

Numbers are numbers but what does $1 million even mean? Material success? I guess if Jack Neo is content with cashing in film fodder year after year and not pressured to ever make a first-rate film that doesn't ride on slapstick humour, stereotypes and product placements then we really should just leave him alone on his voice-activated Osim massage chair and refrain from the "negativity" and "disdain". I mean, I want to be a better person in my life and career but if money is how he measures his success, then excelsior!

Before we forget – at the end of all the chaos, the dreaded words 'To be continued' appeared on the cinema screen. Yes, there will be a part two. 3, 2, 1 – who is ready? 

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