Jack Neo returns to the silver screen as Karen Neo in Homecoming. Can he win back the love of the audience?
By Kwok Kar Peng
November 14, 2010
TNP PICTURE: GAVIN FOO
IT’S been eight years since he dressed up as a woman.
And for disgraced local director Jack Neo, there’s perhaps no better time than now to dust the cobwebs off his wig and padded bras.
In his latest Chinese New Year movie Homecoming, he plays middle-aged aunty Karen Neo.
It marks his showbiz comeback after his two-year extra-marital affair with 22-year-old model Wendy Chong was exposed in March.
Is dabbling in drag a calculated career move then, given that the public adored his earlier beloved female incarnations Liang Popo and Liang Ximei?
Neo, 50, denied that was his intention.
He told The New Paper: ‘It doesn’t matter to me whether I play a woman or a man, as long as my conscience is clear.
‘The audience will have their own thinking. I was offered the role and I accepted it because it has been a very long time since I played a woman.’
He spoke to The New Paper in between filming Homecoming at Golden Mile Complex yesterday.
Also present was Malaysian singer-actor Aniu, who plays Karen Neo’s son.
Helmed by film veteran Daniel Yun’s movie production house Homerun Asia, the movie takes place over the two days leading up to the Chinese New Year.
It tells a series of stories about people rushing home for the important reunion dinner.
The movie also stars Mark Lee, Huang Wenhong and Rebecca Lim.
The $1 million movie opens here on Feb 3 next year.
Though Neo made it clear from the start of the interview that he would not respond to questions regarding his affair, the seasoned artiste alluded to it.
He said: ‘It’s natural that everyone is concerned about me and my direction. The concern itself isn’t bad but if I have nothing to say, then I’d rather not talk.
‘Talk is cheap, action is most important. I’d rather show people through my actions and work, not by talking…
‘I hope people won’t keep asking me about it. If you have an unhappy encounter, you wish it can pass. People cannot be stuck in an unhappy stage in life.’
Some people who were watching the filming said they’ve already forgiven Neo. Filming began in October and ends today. Some of the cast and crew also flew to Kuala Lumpur to film scenes.
Housewife Lily See, 58, thinks that people should ‘delete the memory’ of his affair.
‘I think it’s good that he’s back. Making mistakes is inevitable. He has to live and carry on with his life. He shouldn’t waste his talent,’ she said.
Madam See, who had rushed down from her home in Bedok to the film set in Beach Road just to see Neo, added that she looks forward to watching his movies every Chinese New Year.
Some don’t recognise him
Her brother, who works near the film set, had told her about the filming.
Mr Lim Tong Hing, 64, a storekeeper who works in the vicinity of the film set, added that Neo’s affair is water under the bridge.
He was also one of several passers-by who didn’t recognise Neo in drag.
It’s no wonder because Karen Neo is a stark difference from Liang Ximei, the famous aunty Neo created and played in 2000 in several variety TV shows.
Gone are the gaudy clothes, large spectacles and ‘aunty’ hairdo.
Instead, Karen Neo dresses in light-coloured outfits and her stylish crop falls in soft curls around her ears.
If you look closely enough, something’s different about the eyes too.
Explained Neo: ‘The make-up artist applied very strong glue on the skin around the corners of my eyes and pulled the skin upwards to give me a different eye shape.
‘I don’t have sensitive skin but the skin was pulled so tight that it peeled off. The make-up artist had to stick the glue on another part of my skin to allow the first patch to heal.’
He called his wig a ‘helmet’ because it was so hot and stuffy. He also had to endure the pain of plucking his eyebrows and waxing his chest.
In between filming, a crew member was spotted pulling Neo’s blouse up to fan his body, which was wrapped up in a padded bodysuit.
Making light of his discomfort, he added: ‘People who don’t have money for Botox can just stick glue on their temples.’