It’s almost a given – box office veteran director Jack Neo will release a movie almost every year. From themes ranging from libido to education to national service, Neo always manages to find topics which strike a chord in the hearts of Singaporean heartlanders. But his works have sometimes been panned by critics, who say that Neo’s way of bringing his message across to audiences can be too pedantic.

So when the nation celebrated SG50, how could Neo not put out a jubilee film? Thankfully, his 2016 blockbuster Long Long Time Ago feels quite different from his previous works, we feel, owing to the following reasons.

1. Dialogues between characters are almost completely in dialect and Malay

From left: Nurijah Sahat, Suhaimi Yusof and Aileen Tan try to convince a factory canteen operator to lease them a shop space each.

From left: Nurijah Sahat, Suhaimi Yusof and Aileen Tan try to convince a factory canteen operator to lease them a shop space each.

True to the cultural background of Singapore in the 1960s and early 1970s, the characters in Long Long Time Ago speak to each other in a mix of Teochew, Hokkien, Malay and English. This is a truly multi-cultural movie involving Chinese, Malay and Indian characters. Especially since most Singaporeans do not speak dialect nowadays, it wasn’t easy for Jack Neo to find younger actors who were fluent enough. So when Benjamin Tan, 27, a student at Los Angeles’ Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, sent in a demo clip of himself speaking fluent Teochew, Jack Neo was so impressed that he gave Tan the supporting role of Ah Xi immediately.

To ensure authenticity and accuracy in the actors’ pronunciations, native Hokkien speakers such as Mark Lee and Wang Lei would sometimes debate with each other.

2. Jack Neo’s most expensive movie to date

Jack Neo recreated a flood scene inspired by real events in 1969. (Photo credit: Yahoo! Singapore, Golden Village)

Jack Neo recreated a flood scene inspired by real events in 1969. (Photo credit: Yahoo! Singapore, Golden Village)

Filmed over 60 days on location in Ipoh’s Kampong Cina Pusing and Singapore, Long Long Time Ago initially had a budget of S$5 million, but post-production improvements pushed costs to $6 million. Just the water for the flood scene alone cost $10,000, Neo told reporters. His team specially had a swimming pool built and filled with mud and water for the flood scene, which is inspired by a real deluge which happened in Singapore in 1969.

3. No hot xiao mei meis (young lasses)

Aileen Tan's character Zhao Di makes a living by selling soy bean milk in the market. To her left is Zhao Di's third brother, Ah Hee, played by newcomer Benjamin Tan.

Aileen Tan’s character Zhao Di makes a living by selling soy bean milk in the market. To her left is Zhao Di’s third brother, Ah Hee, played by newcomer Benjamin Tan.

Aileen Tan, 49, who plays female lead Zhao Di in the movie, sports a chipped tooth, an auntie hairstyle and mum-bod perpetually clothed in frumpy samfu. So do the other female characters, in true kampong style of the yesteryear. Downtrodden in an anachronistic society, you’ll see what it’s like to have to play second fiddle to the men in the family all the time. In fact, Tan’s chipped tooth is real. She fell and broke it at a party three months before filming commenced and Neo refused to let her fix it, because he thought it would give her onscreen character a stronger personality.

Tan tearfully revealed in a group media interview that it was easy for her to relate to Zhao Di because she had grown up in such a misogynistic environment herself. It took her months to get out of character even after filming had wrapped.

4. Not preachy, just the facts

The story is narrated by Zhao Di's eldest daughter Su Ting (far left), played by Yan Li Xuan.

The story is narrated by Zhao Di’s eldest daughter Su Ting (far left), played by Yan Li Xuan.

Often, Jack Neo’s films will contain some homily, in the form of a platitude spouted by one of the main characters, or the narrator. It can range from a message about filial piety, to civic duty, to patriotism. But Long Long Time Ago, narrated by the preteen daughter of female lead Zhao Di, loyally and simply recounts the trials and tribulations of her family from 1965 to the early 1970s without judgement. At appropriate intervals, she explains important historical developments which unravel during this period. This sparing commentary is incredibly refreshing and the audience is left to draw their own conclusions from the actions of the characters.

5. Long Long Time Ago is the first movie to use Auro 11.1, a new 3D immersive sound technology

Auro 11,1 by Barco's system uses a sound reproduction speaker layout based on three axes.

Auro 11,1 by Barco’s system uses a sound reproduction speaker layout based on three axes.

Usually, your average movie theatre employs surround sound. But this revolutionary sound technology called Auro 11.1 goes one step further to bring sound from all around and the ceiling. Touted to offer the most realistic 3D sound experience currently available in the market, you’ll experience the famous flood scene and fight scene in Long Long Time Ago as never before.

At a media screening of Long Long Time Ago, The Popping Post had the chance to experience the magic of Auro 11.1 with director Jack Neo, who shared that his film was mixed in the new immersive technology at Galaxy Studios Belgium. With Auro 11.1, the audience will feel as if the action in the movie is happening around them. For example, if a plane is flying overhead onscreen, or a car is coming around the bend onscreen, you can actually feel the sound moving with the object.

Golden Village Multiplex is the first cinema operator to launch Auro 11.1 in Singapore. More movies, including Kungfu Panda 3, Batman vs Superman and Long Long Time Ago 2 (opening March 31), are slated to be screened with this new technology.

So, if you haven’t caught this epic Singapore docu-movie, what are you waiting for? Book your tickets here.

Credits: Wikipedia, Toggle