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The Diam Diam Era Review: Mark Lee’s ‘Chinese Helicopter’ Dominates Jack Neo’s Poignant History Lesson

Jack, you’re forgiven for ‘Killer Not Stupid’. For now.  

The Diam Diam Era (PG13)

Starring Mark Lee, Henry Thia, Richie Koh, Danny Lee

Directed by Jack Neo

It’s Singapore History time with Uncle Jack Neo! The latest chapter in Neo’s nation-building saga — which started with 2016’s Long Long Time Ago, followed by Long Long Time Ago 2 — looks at how the Chinese-educated are disadvantaged by the bilingualism policy in the 1980s. Richie Koh and Danny Lee play feuding cousins, one’s a ‘Chinese helicopter*’, the other ang moh pai **. Guess who’s doing better in life? But their humdrum rivalry is sidelined in favour of Mark Lee’s scene-stealing cantankerous cabbie, whose never-ending (and increasingly annoying) whining about the gahmen drives him to run for public office (an endeavour that will be covered in the sequel due Chinese New Year). Neo’s 25th directorial feature comes across as a Greatest Hits collection of beats from his early oeuvre (notably Homerun, Just Follow Law, I Not Stupid and Ah Boys to Men) — same same but different. As an essay on the price of progress, The Diam Diam Era is poignant if a little — and this is a Jack Neo thing — preachy, episodic and melodramatic. Even though it isn’t without its enjoyable moments (when you put Lee, Henry Thia and Wang Lei in the same room, expect comical combustion), it’s still too tele-movie for my liking. But after the back-to-back haphazard misfires of Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei and Killer Not Stupid, I can live with that. For now. (**1/2)

Photo: mm2 Entertainment 

/* Chinese helicopter: An adjective used to describe a Chinese-educated person. From The Coxford Singlish Dictionary.

/ ** ang mo pai: A term used to describe Singaporeans who are more proficient in English than their native tongue, or Anglophiles in general. From The Coxford Singlish Dictionary.

 

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