Behind the laughs in the movie, Homecoming is a message that’s as old as time—family is the best
Directed by director-writer Lee Thean-Jeen, Homecoming boasts a Singaporean-Malaysian cast of filmmaker/actor Jack Neo, Mark Lee, Jacelyn Tay, Malaysian comedian Afdlin Shauki and his countrymen, singer Ah Niu and child star Koe Yeet, as well as 100.3FM radio deejay Huang Wen Hong. It takes on a multi-narrative structure focusing on three groups: a demanding chef who cannot wield the same control over his teenage daughter, a mother-and-son pair who embark on a comedy-of-errors sort of road trip across the Causeway to make it in time for the yearly reunion dinner, and a yuppie couple who have to choose between a free vacation to Bali and New Year’s Eve with their family.
Replete with wordplay centering on dialects and colloquialism, Homecoming is a laugh a minute, ending on a heart-warming note about family, going home for the festivities and the importance of tradition—simple truths really, but one birthed from the Malaysian-born Lee’s own experiences.
“When my family was based in Malaysia and I was working in Singapore, I would take a bus back every weekend to see them. Within a period of four to five years, I think I’ve traveled along the North-South Highway about 350 to 400 times,” he said during the press conference held at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel on Jan. 25. Needless to say, a few hiccups happened during several of the trips, which gave him the idea of making a movie along those lines.
“Of course, it never occurred to me that when I actually got around to making the movie, it would star some of the biggest talents from Singapore and Malaysia, and that my lead actor would have a D-cup bust,” he joked, referring to Neo’s cross-dressing character (for the third time in his acting career) as Karen Neo, who plays opposite Ah Niu as his 50-something accident-prone but well-meaning mother.
Emerging from a challenging past year, Neo hams it up as the bumbling, dolled-up Karen with some of the funniest scenes in the movie. She is a walking accident whose “stunts” include almost asphyxiating her son with medicated oil and knocking out the bus driver, but it is her heart of gold which saves the day.
According to Neo, the whole getup took him two hours everyday, with the hardest part of the transformation being the adhesives placed near his hairline to pull up his eyes for a “Korean superstar” look. But he takes it all in stride.
“I think my ‘appetite’ for movies has returned,” he says in hushed tones. Indeed, his hilarious portrayal, down to the very twitch of his fingers and the matronly sway of his hips makes a high-impact foil for Ah Niu’s character, the ever-forlorn Ah Meng who is constantly embarrassed of his mother. Ah Niu himself jokingly laments, “It’s just my luck—the only time when I get to be physically intimate with another female on set is with my mother,” referring to the scene where Karen has to share a seat with her son on the bus. He adds, “Jack is so into his role that I am afraid we will lose him forever to Karen Neo …”
Shauki, who plays the “unfortunate” taxi driver ferrying the mother-and-son pair back to Malaysia, and the only non-Chinese speaking member of the cast, added, “I’ve known him longer as Karen Neo than as Jack so much so that when he removed his dress and makeup, I didn’t really want to talk to him because I felt like I didn’t know him at all!” As to whether he’d be keen to act in a sequel, Shauki immediately replied, “Yes, but I have only one request—that I get a taxi with air-conditioning!”
Speaking in a hybrid dialect of Cantonese and Mandarin, the ever-comical Mark Lee succeeds in injecting humor into his stern, humorless role as an overachieving chef who talks down to his trusted restaurant manager, played by Jacelyn Tay. His harsh treatment of those close to him is extended toward his teenage daughter, Mindy, endearingly played by Malaysian actress Koe Yeet, who says that she latched on to Lee’s “fatherly gaze” in order to convincingly express her lines toward the “parent” she barely knows.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF DOUBLE VISION|
For Rebecca Lim, who has acted in TV series such as Fighting Spiders and The Pupil, Homecoming is her feature film debut. She plays the modern wife of Ah Boon, who doesn’t see the significance of partaking in the reunion dinner. “The schedules for a movie production are less hectic as compared to shooting for a TV series, so I had time to get acquainted with Wen Hong. It took some of the stress off. After I shot the first scene, I went to the back and ‘stoned.’ The sense of achievement was rather surreal.” Playing the docile Ah Boon who wants to fulfil his wife’s desire of jetting off to Bali yet wishing to stay for the family reunion dinner, it was seemingly at odds with his quick-mouthed radio persona but Huang says, “Being a Malaysian myself, I could relate to the character so it came to me naturally enough.”
Said director Lee, “It’s my hope that once the viewers are done laughing at the jokes, they’ll be reminded that our families are not perfect—some are even a little bit strange—but in the end, they’re the ones who will always be there for us.”
Homecoming will be screening in cinemas from Feb. 3 onwards.