I Not Stupid Too…another brilliant work from Neo
I had high hopes for I Not Stupid Too after watching the light hearted and funny trailer and also because I am a long standing Jack Neo fan who has watched almost all of his films. Neo has made a name for himself in Singapore as a no holds barred director who has a penchant for using his films as a social commentary pieces, combining elements of serious drama with a dash of witticism and humour. Neo is a director who is not afraid to address the serious issues that matters and provide a humourous perspective while he's at it.
And I am happy to say that I Not Stupid Too retains all the classic Neo trademarks that made his movies very meaningful, inspired and most of all, appealing not only to the Singaporean masses but also Malaysia and the world over.
For me, Neo has made another winning film that is light-hearted, touching, heartrending and also serious. I think for Neo and his team – including the cast and crew – I Not Stupid Too has to be one of his most difficult and emotionally draining films ever. From issues regarding the birds and the bees to youth gangs, child neglect, breakdown of parental communication and abuse to the use of technology as a form of escapism, Neo has left no stone unturned in his attempt to provide us audience a look at the issues concerning the youths and families in society today.
Just so you know, I Not Stupid Too is not a sequel to I Not Stupid – both are completely different stories dealing with vastly different issues. The latter is much more light-hearted and infused with more comedic moments as Neo takes us on a journey through the lives of three children and their families in Singapore's tough education system.
I Not Stupid Too, as I mentioned above, deals with tougher and more serious issues – asking tough questions and painting a grim portrait of the state of today's youth in society. It's somehting that's increasingly troubling and altogether common today.
The film is narrated and seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Jerry Yeo (Ashley Leong, a cute boy actor and an inspired spot of casting by Neo) who has a misunderstood brother named Tom (Shawn Lee, maturing very well and has proven to have strong acting ability – a vast improvement from his previous roles) who is constantly at loggerheads with his mom (Xiang Yun, who seems to be constantly portraying angry and difficult mothers) and dad (Neo himself).
Tom is a technofreak and very outspoken in the Internet, making him one of the popular bloggers in the country. He uses the blog as his outlet to vent all his frustrations and hurts caused by his parents who did not understand him and did not know how to communicate well. Tom does not do well in school and soon finds himself in deeper trouble as he became involved in gangs.
Jerry, on the other hand, is becoming naturally curious about the bird and the bees, after he was made to kiss a classmate by his cheeky friends who then falsely made him believe that he might have impregnate his fellow classmate. That got him worried and he tried to ask from the adults around him how do babies come about. No one was open enough to tell him the truth (come on people!!! How hard can it be??). At the same time, he has been chosen as the lead role for a school play, and his teacher encouraged him to get his parents to come. But he knows that his parents are forever busy and view performances such as this as a waste of money and time.
The mom doesn't know how to communicate with her sons, constantly nagging and scolding them. The sons feel very stifled by the environment they are in and don't understand why the adults won't give them a chance to listen and allow themselves to speak up. As the movie progressed, the wrongs of the parents begin to cause heavy consequences on both the children.
Tom has a close friend, Chengchai (Josh Ang, also maturing well and seems to have gotten the tough guy persona down to a pat) who has an ex-convict for a father. The father loves the boy very much, and doesn't want Chengchai to end up as a loser bummer like himself and has gone to great lengths to ensure that Chengchai is a good and sensible person. Unfortunately, he doesn't communicate with his son and prone to using physical violence and hurling verbal abuses at him.
Neo is being very brutally honest in his depiction of youths today as they feel stifled by their environment and always feels pressured by adults around them who did not bother to listen to them but prefer to criticise and rub them off as no hopers. Most of the problems facing our youths are mostly the result of breakdown in communication between parents and their kids. And with parents increasingly spending less time with the family to concentrate on their careers, these youths are left with no one else to turn to, not even their teachers.
What teenagers need most, Neo says through this film – are to be understood and to be respected! Money and material goods can only do so much – it will not fill the emptiness and the longings in their heart… all that they ever wanted is to be understood, to be listened too, to be able to speak up and not shouted against, to be given the benefit of the doubt. They don't like to be criticised, they want to be shown the respect that they deservedly needed. They need praises like everyone else. How would you feel if someone constantly talks bad about you, scold you and hit you all the time? Do you like it? Of course not!
Like the film ask in the beginning – when was the last time you praised someone? When was the last time someone praised you? It's been a long, long time, hasn't it? Don't you think it's about time we start once more?
Teenagers are very, very sensitive people, and this is a crucial stage where children begin to shape their identity and find their place in the world. They are still confused and riddled with pressures from the expectations of adults around them. They are at the stage where one is neither a child nor yet an adult.
With no adults willing to give them a chance to be heard and understood, with no one they could turn to, in the end, these children find solace in their friends and not all friends are good. These 'friends' only pretend to be their friends, to use them and to manipulate them for their own gains. These people prey on vulnerable children, duping into thinking that once they join the gang, they're "brothers" and will be looked after.
No one wants to be in a gang. It's not for thrill as some people might believe. It's because teenagers are willing to respond to people who pays attention to them and deem them useful, skillful and important. It's because they've been backed into a corner. The moment they found a place where they are accepted, where they are welcomed with open arms…they will definitely respond to it and become part of the crowd. This is a trap that is laid by these gangs…tricking these wayward, fragile and vulnerable kids by praising them and make them believe that this is where they truly feels a sense of belonging.
This is definitely a must watch film for all parents, teachers and anyone who comes into contact with children and teenagers. This movie is an ideal film to serve as a wake up call, reminding us to start paying attention to our kids and to listen to them, to praise and love them, not hurt and ridicule them. The fact that it deals with matters so close to home is an additional plus. Western children face more difficult issues than those of ours, and Singapore and Malaysia has always been close neighbours and therefore, whatever is happening in Singapore, it is very likely that it happens in Malaysia as well.
It is true that the children do things that they learn from adults closest to them – parents. And it is important that parents start to change the way they bring up their kids. I thank Jack Neo and his team for coming up with such important and meaningful films and I hope that he continues to make films like this for a long, long time. It is certainly better to have this kind of movies than what we have in the cinemas today.
All images are copyrighted and sourced from the official website of the film.