From Ah Boys to friends

JACK Neo’s latest comedy Ah Boys To Men Part 1 has earned $4.35 million in box-office sales since it opened here two weeks ago.

But just as precious as the box-office gold is the friendship forged between the young actors of the film.

Once strangers, they are now buddies who hang out several times a week.

Local getai singer Wang Weiliang told The New Paper he would never have become friends with his co-star Joshua Tan had it not been for the movie.

To begin with, they couldn’t hold a conversation because Mandarin-speaking Wang, 25, isn’t fluent in English while English-speaking Tan, 22, is weak in Mandarin.

Things were initially awkward between them and it was hard to be together, Tan said in a separate interview.

Wang’s English was “horrible”, he joked.

“He always talked to me in Mandarin and also cracked jokes in Mandarin. Everyone else laughed but I didn’t understand what he had said,” the aspiring actor said.

And with different personalities, there was nary a chance the two would have been friends if not for the movie, said Tan, adding that while he’s reserved, Wang is outgoing and loves to joke.

But going through 70 days of filming together has turned them into brothers who are almost bilingual.

Tan’s Mandarin and Wang’s English improved and Tan now understands Wang’s jokes.

The two play recruits undergoing Basic Military Training in Ah Boys To Men, which also stars veteran actors like Irene Ang, Liu Qianyi and Wang Lei.

Tan plays Ken, a rich brat who looks for opportunities to slack off during his army training, while Wang plays a streetsmart go-to guy named Lobang.

Wang said: “I wouldn’t have imagined that people from such different social circles could have such a close friendship.”

The bond isn’t just between the two of them but also among the more than a dozen other actors who play army boys, like student Noah Yap, actor Maxi Lim and video editor and YouTube blogger Tosh Zhang, who plays the recruits’ sergeant.

Yap, 19, said the actors clicked so well because they are now on the “same wavelength”.

They meet as often as four days a week for supper, drinks or late-night movies, he said.

He added: “That’s how brotherly we are. The girlfriends understand and don’t complain.”

The exposure they received from the movie’s success has also advanced the careers for some of them.

Wang said he now performs in around 15 getai shows a week, five more than before the movie opened.

Tan earned a supporting role as a timid nerd named Felix in the HBO Asia drama Serangoon Road, now in production.

Fans of the young men have also set up Twitter fanclubs for Tan, Wang, Zhang, Yap and Lim, with the number of followers ranging from 300 to more than 1,000.

Their popularity is expected to rise in the lead up to Part 2 of the film, which opens on Feb 7.

Neo said it will focus on the brotherhood between the recruits, which isn’t in the first movie.

He said there will also be a few fight scenes. One of these is a big fight at a restaurant, involving more than 10 actors. It took an entire night to complete.

In the trailer for Part 2, shown at the end of the first film, recruit I P Man (Yap) ropes in his section mates to seek revenge on the man who stole his girlfriend.

Neo added: “There’s a very special meaning at the end of the fight, which I won’t reveal now. I want viewers to see it themselves.”

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Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Jack Neo, Zao Bao, TNP, JTeam Productions, Golden Village Pictures)
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