I Not Stupid


Reviewed by: Funn Lim

June 18, 2004

Rating: four-point-five

Mandarin title : Xiaohai Bu Ben

Meaning of Title
Whilst "I Not Stupid" is certainly not great English, the Chinese title actually means "Kids Are Not Stupid" which is basically the whole theme of the movie. Basically.

Directed by
Jack Neo

Writing credits
Jack Neo (screenplay)

Produced in
Singapore

Directed by
Jack Neo

Writing credits
Jack Neo (screenplay)

Country
Singapore

Language
Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Malay, and a whole lot of Hokkien

Cast-Character
I took this list from IMDB.com and if you see any mistake as to the names (frankly other than Jack Neo and some other actors, the rest is like strangers to me), do not e-mail me since I can't amend this review as this is not E-Buzz.


Jack Neo .... Mr. Liu
Yun Xiang .... Mrs. Liu
Richard Low .... Mr. Khoo
Selena Tan .... Mrs. Khoo
Po Ju Huang .... Terry Khoo
Shawn Lee .... Liu Kok Pin
Joshua Ang .... Ang Boon Hock
Cheryl Chan .... Selena Khoo
Su-Ru Wen .... Ms. Lee
Xian Bin Zheng .... Ang Tiong Meng
Kwee-hiok Lim .... Tiong Meng's mother
Choi Yeng Wong .... Boon Hock's mother
Sally Ong .... Ms. Lim

Summary
A simple story about kids in Singapore? That's what Jack Neo says who, after watching the brilliant "Children of Heaven", he was so inspired to make a movie about children, he chose this theme. But frankly, I see this movie as a story about adults seen through the eyes of children branded to be hopeless in a society that treasures paper recognition (degrees, degrees and more degrees) more than individualism. In a way, I find this movie utterly honest, as adults, like children, are vulnerable at times and children like adults are strong when they must be. Am I being too philosophical?

A Note
Ok, this is my very first, READ VERY FIRST review for dear SPCNET. It's not that I am not going to post this review elsewhere but I feel since I have something to say about a movie made by my local compatriots (Singapore and Malaysia, however estranged, are still long lost family in my opinion, we have our moments I guess), I guess I must do this fast. More so, I want the dubious honour of posting the first non-HK (Hong Kong) movie in this section. I can see the honours coming. But why I chose this movie as my first review in here is simple. Nothing satisfies me more than the fact that a "locally" produced movie could be so much more better than everywhere else. Of course "The Eye" would be my second review since more so, there's our local girl in there.

The Plot (spoilers!)

--------

Simple but a lot of underlying subtexts.

In a society where the education system is basically categorised as "EM1, EM2 and EM3", this is a story about three young individuals who are all in EM3, the hopeless bunch in the "perfect" education system, where the smart ones gets the recognition of being smart and the weak ones are branded unfairly as stupid, useless and of no use to the society which favours degrees, foreigners, science and math. This story, in particular, is told through the eyes of an 11 year old spoilt brat who is more useless of the three, named Terry Khoo who is rich, pampered, chubby, with a sister who hates authority, a father who is a typical Hokkien man with little finesse but a whole lot of conscience and a mother who embodies the government of Singapore, who lives by the slogan "I only want what's good for you". Because of this, our Terry does not even know how to make coffee and is often too scared to stand up for his much braver friends as his mother taught him "It's none of you businessssssss". His father is the owner of the successful "Ba Gua" (Dried Mince Pork) business under pressure by the even bigger company soon to be here from Taiwan.

In the meantime, Liu Kok Pin is a pressured child, as his mother, who forever worries about his math and English pressures him to get 90 points in his exams, a feat he will never be able to do not because, as his mother alleges that he is lazy, but because he is not particularly academically gifted. But he is gifted in art, where he can sketch the most beautiful portraits, a talent his mother dismisses as useless. His father, Mr Liu, is a Chinese copyrighter who discovers, to his horror, Chinese language is being sidelined by the more favourable English. He is one who knows his son's limit but like a typical father, has little time to teach his son, though he is a caring, albeit absent father. Because of Kok Pin's own weakness which his mother could not recognise as nature instead of by choice, Kok Pin would be caned every time he could not answer any questions. Whilst Kok Pin hurts physically, his mother hurts in her heart to know she is hurting her only child, because to her that's what's best for him. A little bit of fear of punishment and perhaps he might do better in the next exams.

Ang Boon Hock is kid with adult responsibilities, whose mom is the owner of a wanton mee stall and whose father we never see, so presumably he's dead. He has to juggle taking care of the shop, serving customers, taking care of his younger baby brother whilst his mom works, doing tons of homework, studying and the stigma of being branded hopeless. As the sayings goes (by the government themselves), stupid people marrying stupid people will produce stupid children. But Boon Hock, after being inspired by a new math teacher who actually cared about her students, studied hard to better himself, because he knew he could. Being the most mature and a loyal friend, he is often the one most clear headed and the most dependable.

For these three, there would be some adventure in store that will change their lives forever.

One day, an ex-employee of Terry Khoo was so desperate for money kidnapped Jerry, and along the way Boon Hock being a loyal friend tried to save Terry and was kidnapped along with Jerry. Kok Pin was hurt besides the road and using his talent in sketching, he gave the policemen the most accurate sketches ever produced. In the meantime, Boon Hock was trying desperately to persuade Terry to try and escape but Terry, being the obedient child that he was, decided not to. Fed up with Terry, Boon Hock decided to escape on his own but never giving up on his friend, finally Terry felt he should be brave to go against what adults say. Whilst pursued by the nasty adults, they luckily escaped unscathed. And Terry became a braver boy.

But a bigger dilemma was going on. Terry's father, Jerry and Kok Pin's father, Mr Liu was never on friendly terms due to minor incidents. But when Kok Pin's mom who was diagnosed with leukemia and was dying, it was Terry who stood up to his own family and made a very adult decision of his own. In the end, friends became better friends, severed ties became merged again and the three young child discover, adults aren't that bad, they aren't that useless and life in Singapore aren't that difficult.

Comments

I have seen most major pictures by Jack Neo, those written by him and those starring him. As an actor, Jack Neo is only so-so but like Stephen Chow, what is amazing about this man is his willingness to give other better actors a chance to shine. This is evident where the best lines in this movie are given to the fantastic and really funny Richard Low who plays the loud mouthed and screaming Mr. Jerry Khoo. He reminds me so much of my own father, a typical Hokkien man himself who though means no harm, shouts and screams at the top of his lungs. Our dinner time is like a scream fest. Richard Low's most remembered line would of course be "Lin Beh" which means father.

Anyway, where was I? The movie? The plot? The story? Simple and yet excellent execution. Though at times the movie seems like fun stuff, it's actually a very serious social commentary and very critical about the Singaporean government. Selena Tan who plays Mrs Khoo is the embodiment of the government, arranging everything for her children, telling them to be grateful, always knowing what's right and what's wrong, always certain whilst Terry is the Singaporean citizens, always obedient, always listening. One joke which was really funny and I feel resembles Malaysians as well is :

"Why can't anybody catch any fish in Singapore?"

"Because the fishes, like Singaporeans would rather die than to open their mouth!".

I find that so true. And there were some references to the education system creating and nurturing walking dictionaries rather than individuals, bosses favouring foreigners and assuming anything foreign is naturally good...all these I am sure Malaysians could relate too.

I guess why I like this movie so much is because it's so us and it's so universal. Every parents would want the best out of their children and every children will at some point in their lives grow up and make an important decision. School is like a prison for some (though my own sister confessed she loved school, and frankly, I see her as the weird one), teachers who made derogatory remarks and judge a student by how great his grades are and not by the person's nature. In this movie you'll see arrogant EM1 students and you'll see loyal EM3 students. I do believe studies is important, I wouldn't want my child to be so behind in everything he could never have a possible future. But this movie shows to us, there are limits to a person, some are academically gifted some are not. Like Kok Pin, he is naturally gifted in arts, Terry who is naturally a good kid however much of a coward he may be and my favourite of all, Boon Hock, who is quite smart as he is loyal and brave. Sometimes we must venture beyond scores and marks and prowess in math and science to see the best nature of a child, and since a good and kind hearted person is as important as academic excellence, if not more important, a person's good side must never be ignored simply because they're weak in some areas thought by the society as important. I do believe everyone has one good talent, but education systems like those in Malaysia and Singapore, I am afraid we the adults might bury such talent.

That being said, I of course wants my child to score 100 points in each exams. If he can't because by nature and not by choice (laziness is a disease and I am lazy, mind you), what more can we do? We try to be more supportive, instead of driving them to suicide at an early age, something which Kok Pin was about to do. That was perhaps one of the scariest scenes, and perhaps the saddest. To choose death instead of life just because of a lousy exam score is perhaps the worst one could do to ones life. At least dying for money is more worthwhile, in my personal opinion.

Performances Rated

Excellent performances by adults and children alike, some were extremely honest. Whilst we can see some silly acting by some insignificant roles, the major ones were excellent. My favourites are as below...

Favourite Portrayal By An Adult

Who else but the Lin Beh himself, Richard Low. Excellent performance, an funny as hell from he first appeared to the last.Honest, truthful and so real.

Favourite Portrayal By A Child

Whilst I feel Shawn Lee, who obviously had more acting experience than the other two was really good, my favourite has to be the mature and thoughtful Boon Hock, played excellent by the rather good looking Joshua Ang.I just like this boy.Period.

Favourite Moments

Whenever Lin Beh appears, expect some funny moments. Also those office banters, the chemistry between the three kids which is very real by the way and of course, the one scene where Liu the father slapped his son Kok Pin so hard that Kok Pin was flung to the side of the room, after Jerry complained to Liu about Kok Pin punching Terry, who by the way said "Wouldn't it be better? You always say you hate your mom for hitting you, so when she's dead she won't hit you anymore", right after Mrs Liu was diagnosed with leukemia. Stupid boy I know but he meant well.

Verdict

Refer to my rating below, I feel it is justified. I could give this one full marks but there are some weaknesses, like the script of this movie whilst wonderful may be a bit too sugar coated towards the end. But hey, all's well will always what? Yep, have a happy ending! And why not? Watch this movie and you'll smile. I do think Jack Neo has outdone himself, as this was even better than "Money No Enough" (about men and money) and, if I am not mistaken, "That One Not Enough" (about men and infidelity).

Interesting Facts

Jack Neo, a respected comedian and filmmaker saw the excellent "Children of Heaven" and was inspired to make this movie. While both movies talk about different stuff, I do think "Children of Heaven" is indeed a movie about children seen through the eyes of children. You have got to watch that movie to know why I am so bitter about our really talentless Malaysian directors/writers...that story could have been ours! What makes these two movies so entertaining, especially "Children Of Heaven", is its simplicity. Both movies lack those essential car chase scenes, sex, or whatever to make it top office draws but it will be these kind of movies that will be remembered years down the road. I for one has never forgotten "Children of Heaven", and after watching "I Not Stupid", I am convinced that some day an Asian director from South East Asia will win an Oscars for Best Picture. Of course I will be cheering for Jack Neo if he wins, even if Malaysia and Singapore might bicker like estranged siblings over of all things, water. But hey, Malaysia is right ok?


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