“Make love, not war,” declared Ah Boys and/or Frogmen.
This is perhaps one of the most cringe-worthy slogans to exist, usually found on tacky motivational posters. Yet in a film about military life, it is oddly ironic. Having grossed a staggering S$2.83 million during its first four days of release over the Chinese New Year weekend, Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen (ABTM 3) marks the highest box office takings ever for an Asian film opening in Singapore. Hence, it’s hard to ignore the “blockbuster” nature of this local film, the third in an unplanned trilogy, even when most would just roll their eyes at this very obvious milking of a lucrative cash cow.
Veteran film director Jack Neo once again helms this action comedy, now focused on one particular unit – the Naval Diving Unit (NDU). This installment sees a reunion of most of the original cast members such as Tosh Zhang, Wang Weiliang, Joshua Tan and Maxi Lim, and introduces new faces from Hong Kong.
Given the inconsistency of the original cast and the new unit the film focuses on, Neo takes the opportunity to weave a story of a slightly different nature and gives new names for the characters, though their onscreen personalities remain largely the same. We see the men in their journey from recruits to Hell Week, where they eventually emerge as certified Frogmen.
Neo infuses the men’s personal family issues into the story to complicate matters and stir conflict; plot tactics that create melodrama and invoke poignant moments. While the scenes do make one feel sympathetic, it is ultimately the performances that strike a chord. Notable performances include Wang, who is forced to turn his own mother in for drug addiction, and Lim who has no choice but to defend himself when he is physically bullied.
While jokes are aplenty, there is considerably less slapstick humour as compared to the previous 2 movies. Also noticeable are fewer lines concerning the characters’ racial differences. This time, Neo puts more focus on the men’s camaraderie as they go through the rigourous training in the NDU.
At 148 minutes long, Neo takes the time to elaborate on the practices and harsh trainings conducted in the NDU. The scenes can either motivate or discourage potential enlistees. Nonetheless, it is not far-fetched to say that our Frogmen are the Singapore equivalent of the Navy SEALS in the United States.
In terms of quality, there are two ways you can see this movie. You can either be disappointed at the quality of local productions, or look on the bright side and take it as soft propaganda that showcases the quality of the nation’s Frogmen. Either way, I’m sure everyone can unanimously agree that the blatant product placement in the movie almost turned it into a joke.
Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen is now showing in theatres.
Directed by: Jack Neo
Genre: Action, Comedy
Running time: 148 minutes
In English and Mandarin subtitles