1. Poor computer graphics and awkward battle scenes aside, I think the depiction of Singapore under attack was quite poignant for a few reasons. Through the gunfire and explosions, the fragility of our small nation-state was highlighted (which I presume was intended by director Jack Neo and the Ministry of Defence). However, on a more personal level, what resonated most acutely were the segments when reservist soldiers were called up, asked to bear arms, and thrown speedily onto the battlefield. I think Neo missed an opportunity to meaningfully explore the element of fear experienced by the soldiers, because I found myself asking: when our city is under attack, would I really be ready to engage the enemy? Training and simulations throughout National Service (NS) have equipped me with the requisite skills and knowledge, but I suspect I will never really be ready for such an experience (as our commanders say, when push comes to shove).
Can I bear to take the life of another (should I have been engineered to do so)? Is what I have learnt as a reconnaissance trooper truly applicable? Or do we remain what we were intended to be: deterrence?
2. A Singaporean male does not go through NS alone. In retrospect, the two years might have been a satisfying endeavour, but there is no denying that combat exercises out in the field are physically and emotionally draining. I don’t like how Neo developed the boy-girl-relationship story arc (contrived and exaggerated, in my opinion), but he nailed it with the depictions of how family members – in the past and present – fawn over the national serviceman when he books out from camp. In the bigger picture, MINDEF has done a tremendous job making the Basic Military Training (BMT) phase more accessible to family members, but I reiterate that more can be done to increase family involvement in the engagement process, especially when servicemen are posted to their subsequent units (here).
3. Still, if the film was planned as part of the commemoration of forty-five years of NS, then we should probably take it as it was intended: a celebration. I caught it with my army friends, and the film did bring back some memories. Neo succeeded with the portrayal of stereotypes, the presentation of army jokes and humour, and comparing “tekan” practices from the past to the present. Individuals who struggle with dialects or “army-speak” could find the dialogues a little hard to understand, and the plot development can be a little iffy at times, but overall it was rather enjoyable.
Oh, and the opening helicopter shots of Singapore and her landmarks? Absolutely stunning.