Film Review: Is Ah Girls Go Army really just a 2-hour long advertisement?
A slipshod rendition of Ah Boys To Men.
Largely playing on the stereotypes of women, Jack Neo’s latest film Ah Girls Go Army has stirred quite a bit of commotion since its release on Feb 1.
Ah Girls Go Army poses the highly possible future of a shortage of manpower in the National Service (NS) due to declining birth rates. As such, women now need to serve the country, starting with girls above the age of 20.
The show follows the first batch of female recruits, who are 14 Gen-Z girls from different backgrounds, as they undergo a series of personal issues and emotional turmoil whilst adapting to the demanding life of a recruit.
Seeing how intriguing the set-up was, it really set my expectations high. Unfortunately, things just went downhill from there.
In true Jack Neo fashion, the movie tries to inject humour via the use of punny character names like Monica Chng, Princess See and Chow Sergeant, along with the (over)usage of Singlish and dialect jokes.
A large portion of the film is also similar to his blockbuster series Ah Boys To Men – such as character quirks and mini storylines. Seeing the multiple crossovers, it felt like Ah Girls Go Army was simply a rendition of Ah Boys To Men, but just a slipshod version.
The blatant advertising
If you’ve been keeping up with Jack Neo’s filmography, you’ll know that most of his works hardly have any witty incorporations of product placements.
Well, in Ah Girls Go Army, it doesn’t get any better.
Things like officers serving recruits foodpanda delivery for dinner, to actor Zheng Geping promoting a car marketplace, it almost seems like Ah Girls Go Army is a two-hour long advertisement.
There are several scenes that felt like it is there for the sake of promoting the sponsors, most of which do not add value to the (almost non-existent) plot or worse, make the show even more confusing and unrealistic.
This brings me to my next point:
The unrelatable setting and poorly written screenplay
Ah Boys To Men received the critical acclaim it got much thanks to its highly relatable plot. Those who had undergone NS were able to appreciate the humour and comical scenes because of familiar settings and lingo. It also brought back some nostalgia.
However in Ah Girls Go Army, as the “plot” was pretty much crafted out of thin air, not many could understand it – myself included, which is ironic because I’m the target audience.
Why are the female recruits crying in every scene? Why are grown women bringing their stuffed animals to a military camp? Since when were Singaporeans’ command of English so poor? I winced every time I heard Recruit Princess See mispronounce a simple English word.
Even as a female Gen-Z myself, I found myself being unable to comprehend anything that was happening on screen. If anything, I took it as a misogynistic portrayal of women.
It seemed like the message Jack Neo was trying to convey is that women will never be good enough to tolerate the rigidity of our National Service due to their weak, sensitive, dramatic, demanding and obnoxious nature.
The only time the characters had any sense of camaraderie was when they wanted to complain about how they’re being mistreated in camp – because all women do is complain, right? It makes me wonder just how disconnected Jack Neo is from the average Singaporean woman.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a movie about female Gen-Z recruits navigating their NS life? Why do the characters look and act more like aunties attending reservist training?
From lavish manicures to over the top eyelash extensions, nothing about these characters scream young. Even the way they talk isn’t what I would expect from a person my age.
I was hoping to see some sort of representation in the characters or a sense of relatability with the problems posed but alas, everything was superficial and underdeveloped.
The underutilisation of characters
Upon the official announcement of the cast line-up, I was beyond excited to see some fresh character dynamics and interesting storylines given the promising characters.
One character I looked forward to was Amanda Ong – portrayed by Kelly Kimberly Cheong – who was meant to play the role of a tomboy recruit. However, it seemed like she was simply casted to fill the screen, along with some of the other recruits.
This inefficiency was the most disappointing of all because I could really see the movie become a lot better if the character had more fleshed out backstories and were given equal screen time.
I wish I could get that two hours of my life back.
Jokes aside, I genuinely feel that it’s about time Jack Neo reevaluates his outdated jokes and overuse of inarticulate characters as relatability. Fat-shaming and condemning women aren’t going to cut it anymore given our evolving society.
I look forward to the day that Jack Neo realises how exaggerating one’s poor command of the English language is nothing but cheap comedic relief.
The sole redeeming factor of this show is probably Glenn Yong’s good looks, but that’s about it. You’re definitely better off saving your money and time.
While the ending does tease some interesting plot twists and cliff hangers which will come full circle in the sequel, I highly doubt I’ll return to the cinema to gain the closure I was robbed of.