Local entertainment icon Jack Neo isn’t the only one in his family in showbiz — his eldest son, Regent, is also a filmmaker.
But Regent (like the posh hotel), 27, wants the world to know that he’s his own man. That’s why he made it a point not to mention his famous dad in the production notes of his just-out Viddsee mini-series Wedding Pig — which is produced by Jack’s company, J Team.
“The reason is so that people will be focused on what I’ve done instead of who I am,” says Regent who also has two brothers, Ritz (another five-star establishment inspired moniker), 22, and Raffles (see the pattern?), 17, and sister Ethel (eh, what happened here?), 29.
A study on sibling rivalry and social class divide, Wedding Pig follows two estranged sisters — debt-ridden singleton Debbie (Invisible Stories’ Regina Lim), and soon-to-marry-a-rich-dude Lea (Estelle Fly, formerly of the J-pop group Sea*A) who have a falling out over the titular family heirloom, a 24-carat golden hog.
Regent isn’t too concerned with being compared to his father because they have different storytelling sensibilities. While Jack’s works tend to be more lighthearted and comical, the younger Neo is more drawn to dramatic and character-driven narratives.
Also, the five-part Wedding Pig is in English while Jack’s stories are in Mandarin and Hokkien. “My style is more Western-influenced,” says the big Christopher Nolan and Damien Chazelle admirer. “Even though we grew up speaking Mandarin at home, my Mandarin is not that good as my father’s.”
Speaking over Zoom, Regent shares more about the making of Wedding Pig and what Jack Neo is like as a family man at home.
1/ Wedding Pig is his debut long-form series.
Prior to Wedding Pig, Regent cut his teeth at his parents’ company J-Team making shorts and commercials (such as the digital lock ad featuring Jack’s popular alter-egos, Liang Xi Mei and Liang Po Po). “Those were really short stories, so this is an opportunity for go more in-depth with the characters and the plot,” says Regent who finetuned the script with friend and collaborator Chelsea Cheo. The show’s nuptial theme also resonated on a personal level: he’s getting hitched to his marketing exec girlfriend next month. While Regent demurs when asked what his parents have gifted him, he does, however, share that there were discussions on whether they should go through certain customary things like guo da li (the Chinese betrothal ceremony). “[At the heart of Wedding Pig,] it’s also about the clash between modern and traditional values,” he adds.
2/ Jack didn’t visit him on the Wedding Pig set – even though he wanted to.
Due to the COVID-safe protocols, Regent couldn’t have too many people on location, which turned out to be a good thing in hindsight. “Sometimes he would ask me [if he could visit the set], I’d think better not — he would give me a lot of pressure [by just being around],” he admits. “Sometimes he would have an opinion and I would have a different opinion — I also bu hao yi si (feel embarrassed) if I [disagree with him],” he says, with a laugh. This happened a lot on the earlier shoots. But Regent is philosophical about Jack’s high-handedness. “He has opinions on how they should look, but he also wanted me to learn, but after I proved to him that I have my own vision and I can do my own thing, he trusted me more,” he says. “He gives me some space to be creative in my own way.”
3/ He attended the Jack Neo School of Filmmaking.
Growing up, Regent rarely set foot on his father’s productions. “My parents didn’t encourage me to pursue filmmaking,” he says. Instead, he went to NUS where he graduated with a Major in Statistics and a Minor in Film Studies. When Regent was 14, Jack showed him a tool of the trade. “That’s the first thing he taught me — editing home videos,” he recalls. “It’s so interesting, so magical!” At 18, he honed his skills in shooting wedding videos. When he started to take his craft seriously, Jack would take him along to the sets of Ah Boys to Men and A Long, Long Time Ago, where the observant padawan picked up a directing tip or two. “If my dad has trouble describing an action, then he would just act it out,” he says. “I would do that too [on my set], so the actor understands better.”
4/ Regent also has issues with the not-too-subtle product placements in his father’s movies.
“Money No Enough 2 is my personal favourite,” says Regent of his father’s 27-strong filmography. “I was quite young [about 14] when I saw that but somehow I could feel for the characters. That inspired me to also want to create characters that people can remember for life and can learn something from it, in this case, filial piety.” While reluctant to name Jack’s worst movie(s), Regent says his father, after every gala premiere, would ask him for feedback. “Of course, I would give him good and bad comments.” And what does Regent make of Jack’s notorious product placements? “I’ve wondered, Why is it when other filmmakers do it, it’s not that obvious?” he guffaws. “To him, he really wanted to honour the investors and sponsors. He loves films. He went on to make movies without going to any film school. A lot of these people have stuck with him since he was a nobody director. From his heart, he just wants to present their [products in the best possible way]. I guess, he goes overboard sometimes. Everybody knows that; he knows that, too.”
5/ Jack Neo the Family Man.
“When he’s making a movie, he’s very focused,” says Regent. “A lot of times he would be in his own room writing a script. We don’t really bother him. But he makes time for us on the weekends unless there is a shoot.” And family time means having “dinners once a week or every two weeks.” He adds, “Our parents always emphasise to us that we have to stay together as a family, no matter what happens. That’s ingrained in us. We support each other whatever happens.” That’s another reason Wedding Pig resonated with him: family unity. “I understand what it’s like to be challenged in circumstances,” he says. “It’s not like Lea and Debbie hate each other — they don’t purposely choose sides, they are forced by circumstances. At the end of the day, they make up. It’s a happy ending. Originally, Chelsea couldn’t decide if the ending should be happy or sad. But I’m glad we went with a happy ending because that’s what our society needs right now.”
6/ From Wedding Pig to chasing food…
Besides Wedding Pig, Regent was also behind the camera of Food Chase, a new game show, now streaming on meWATCH, where celebrity contestants’ hawker food knowledge is put to the test. The losers have to chug ‘The Drink’, a blended concoction of the three dishes featured in that week’s episode. Working on the unscripted show helps keep Regent on his toes. “Wedding Pig is a narrative drama which we can keep doing a scene over and over, with one camera, until we are satisfied, but Food Chase requires us to capture the contestants in real-time with a multi-camera set-up [and] we had to be extra meticulous about what was going to be done in that one take.” Is Regent a foodie? “Do I eat to live or do I live to eat?,” he says. “It’s the former for me. I prefer food in quantity. If it tastes good, I’ll keep going back there and get them in quantity.” Does he have a fave haunt? “My family and I frequent a zhi char stall in Loyang — at 64+4 Food Court — which is known for its pineapple rice. In fact, [during my NS], before I booked in every Sunday night, my parents would take me and my siblings to have pineapple rice before dropping me off at camp. So it was a weekly affair at that time!”
Photos: Viddsee, Jack Neo/Instagram, Kelvin Chia