Men among superheroes

SINGAPORE - Local film-maker Jack Neo's national service dramedy Ah Boys To Men is king of the hill when it comes to top-grossing Asian titles in Singapore last year. It made $6.18 million.

Not only that, his drama We Not Naughty made it to the No. 3 spot with $2.15 million.

It was a good year for Neo indeed, and his Ah Boys To Men is the only Asian title to crack the overall top 10, coming in at No. 5. In 2011, no Asian film cracked the overall top 10.

Superheroes showed their mettle by sweeping the top three spots in the overall top 10.

Marvel's The Avengers raked in $13.73 million, The Dark Knight Rises flew off with $8.93 million and The Amazing Spider-Man scaled the chart with $8.84 million.

Sequels and franchise titles made a strong showing with The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Men In Black 3 and Taken 2 performing well.

Noticeable for its absence from the chart of top 10 grossing English films is the concluding chapter to the Edward-Bella romance The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2. It made $3.9 million. It was, well, taken out by the Liam Neeson vehicle Taken 2.

At first sight, sequels seem to be less dominant than in 2011 when they took up seven of the top 10 spots.

But Marvel's The Avengers has been set up by earlier titles such as Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), both of which made the top 10 in 2011. Also, The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of a successful franchise and not exactly an unknown entity either.

In contrast, only two sequels, Painted Skin: The Resurrection and Taichi Hero, made it to the list of top 10 grossing Asian films.

There were no strong trends in the list though one thing to cheer about was the presence of five local films. Apart from Neo's two films, Kat Goh's Chinese New Year comedy Dance Dance Dragon, Boris Boo's horror comedy Greedy Ghost and Steven Cheng's youth drama Imperfect also made an impact at the local box office.

In 2011, local films also made up half of the top 10 Asian flicks.

While Ah Boys prevented a total domination of the overall top 10 by Western titles, Neo, 52, acknowledges that the Hollywood juggernaut is tough to compete against.

He says: "Hollywood films have very strong backing as they have huge investments and big stars."

Hollywood shapes tastes to such a degree that the top 10 grossing films here follow closely the top 10 grossing films in the United States last year.

There is an overlap of seven films as Marvel's The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Skyfall, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Amazing Spider-Man and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted also staked a place on the American chart.

The Avengers was the top grossing movie with US$623 million (S$766 million) in takings.

But while local films cannot compete with foreign imports in terms of budget and stars, they can offer Singapore stories "to capture audiences' hearts", says Neo.

He is not disheartened by moviegoers here embracing Hollywood spectacles and says: "What's more important is how we can work together to have more Singapore films, not just mine, take more spots on the list."

With part 2 of Ah Boys To Men slated to open on Feb 1, Neo looks set to sew up at least one spot on the chart for 2013.

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