Sunday 30 March 2014

Dear Jack Neo, you don't wanna mess with this frogman

I have a favourite T-shirt.

One reason it’s my favourite is that it was given to me many years ago by a friend who has since passed away.

Another reason is that I think the shirt shows off my body really well.

It has something to do with the cut and the way the fabric hugs my figure just right.

Despite its age, the shirt is still in pretty good condition because I don’t wear it very often even though it’s my favourite T-shirt.

One reason I don’t wear it very often is that the shirt has the words “naval diver” on the back.

In front of the navy blue tee is the logo of the Naval Diving Unit (NDU) of the Singapore navy.

The late friend who gave me the shirt was a naval diver.

I, on the other hand, have never been a naval diver. So for me to wear the shirt is a bit like false advertising.

It’s like imposters wearing Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts even though they're not Hard Rock Cafes. They’re human beings.

To make me feel less like a fraud whenever I wear my NDU shirt, I convince myself that no one could ever mistake me for a naval diver.

For one thing, naval divers are very tanned. I, on the other hand, have the pallor of a navel gazer.

Another justification for me wearing the shirt is that for a few weeks during my national service, I was actually part of NDU as an underwater medical orderly trainee in Sembawang Camp.

I even took what was then called the Underwater Diving Course, swimming around in the yucky water near Sembawang Shipyard.

And I have the diver's badge to prove it – although the one I have now was bought from Beach Road to replace the original which I accidentally chipped.

But while I did some diving (and skiving) in the navy, vocationally speaking, I’m no naval diver.

If only I can find a T-shirt with the words “naval skiver” on the back.

Still, some of my closest friends from NS were naval divers and my affinity for NDU remains.

So I had mixed feelings when it was reported last week that local film-maker, Cultural Medallion recipient and adulterer Jack Neo’s next movie will be a “spin-off” of his highly profitable Ah Boys To Men movies called Ah Boys To Frogmen, about naval divers, to be released next Chinese New Year.

But judging by Facebook comments I have read, I know of at least one former frogman whose feelings aren’t so mixed – he outright hates the idea.

He is my NS friend, Patrick, who was a full-time naval diver for seven years.

Here’s a sampling of his online rant:
“Now we’re well and truly being farqed over – again!

“They did it once in the 80s and we’re bending over again for this idiot to make money and attract more wannabes.”

He is referring to the Channel 8 drama called Navy Series which aired in 1990 and starred Zoe Tay.

As for the new movie, Neo reportedly said the navy is not financially backing the film, but will “provide support”.

Pat’s tirade continued:
“I cannot express enough Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese swear words at my disappointment with this arrangement to collaborate on this misadventure…

“We’ll end up looking like Ah Kwa Peng like the rest of his shitty movies.

“This arsehole has no clue as to what directing a movie requires.

“We watch his shit only because it’s made in Singapore and he has always disappointed on every occasion.”

Clearly, my friend is no fan of Neo’s film oeuvre, but I still couldn’t understand why Pat was so dead set against the movie.

He explained:
“Remember back in our day how little we had to work with but still accomplished the mission?

“Our mindset cannot be expressed by some toyboy actors over a weekend of pretend training.”

Pat was apparently so incensed that he even messaged Neo directly on Facebook:
“Stay away from NDU!

“We’d rather remain ‘the silent professionals’...

“We’ve worked too damn hard to earn our status for you to stuff it up.

“You cannot imagine what we’ve endured physically and mentally to earn the privilege to wear a piece of steel on our chest.

“You really want it, then you go through the whole course first YOURSELF!”

Yeah, 54-year-old Neo in a wetsuit. I don’t think anyone wants to see that.

The message continued:
“I’m an old-school NDU diver from the days before NSF divers came through and even did a small part in the original series with Zoe.

“What a waste of our time.

“So STAY AWAY FROM NDU. We’re not here for you to make money and mockery of.”

Neo hasn’t responded to Pat’s message and Pat doesn’t expect him to.

But I should warn Neo that Pat is into martial arts and has a scary fascination with big knives.

I must remember never to let Pat catch me wearing the shirt.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 March 2014

Hi Mr SM Ong,

I am a Full Fledged Naval Diver myself and I like to express my views.

I do not wish to see this movie happen at all, reason being is that we naval divers are the elites. We do not wish our tactics and specialties be exposed to the public and our beloved unit to be revealed.

Every Singaporean knows Jack Neo and his movies and his long ago alter ego Liang Por Por. Naval divers do not want their image to be tarnished with jokes and the life of Singaporean men.

This is the reason why other countries do not respect us and is mocking at Singapore defence forces when your own people do such things.

You dun see US make fun at the Seals and British dun make a joke of the SAS. In fact, they glorified them and recognised their work and effort through very well directed movies and real life stories.

Mr SM Ong, I am not requesting you to stop the production of this movie but just hope the message to get through to stop making army movies and make a mockery of SAF Defense Forces.

PS: My Naval Instructor is also Patrick, not sure if you are talking about the same one...

Thanks & Regards

Dear Ong,

I'm sure by now you've recieved other emails from former Frogmen to voice their objections.

Anyone who have seen "Ah Boy to Men" & "Ah Boy to Men II" will know the kind of damage done to our SAF. Just go to (rating is only 3/ 10) & you will know.

I was surprised the Ministry's approval, if there's any, of Jack Neo's planning of making "Ah Boys to Frogmen".

If our former CO, Col Lau Bok Thiam (he is a Ranger trained CO), is still in command, I'm sure he will be the very first to strongly object Neo's production.

NDU is the pride of RSN. When I joined the unit in the early 90's, our batch were taught to have pride & we should be proud of being hand picked by the unit to have the opportunity to be a part of NDU.

This is simply because enlistments were only once a year with less than 200 recruits, with a passing rate of only 30%.

Starting from day one of enlistment, we were trained to be the toughest in the Navy. We were trained to risk our lives first in beach clearance during war time before the main fleet to land on enemies beaches.

Ask anyone who had gone through the Professional Diving Course, the only thing they look forward throughout the 6 months course will only be the last week of the course.

It will be a week of very physical & mental training together with sleepless nights ranging from 3 to 5 days & nights, which we call Hell Week.

Why is this so because we will only earn our badge after going through Hell Week. The only worthy opponents in all Frogmen's mind are the Commandos.

To wrap up my short letter, NDU is no joke to anyone to fool around. Please advise Jack Neo & his crew to go through the full 6 months of hell, like what we've gone through before he decides whether to make a mokery out of NDU.

Thank you.
Ho Y C (7th batch)

UPDATE: NDU veteran Bob Chia Ngee Huat has posted this in the Naval Diving Unit Facebook group:

I appreciate very much that a few Old boys of NDU are dead set against the making of another movie on Naval Divers. They loved this image so much and are jealously protecting it.

But I thought that the previous production was a success drawing a viewership of 1.6 million every night? It was free publicity for us and until now, isn't a lot of you kept saying that that show was one of your most memorable one.

I was one of them who was appointed by Col (Retd) Lau Bock Thiam to assist in whatever is required by the then SBC crew.

I remembered that during the opening scene, a bomb was discovered by a construction excavator... it was supposed to be a Japanese Bomb but left on our display was a Mk 82 bomb. So conveniently and without knowledge, the camera crew begin taking it away as a prop. I soon realised that the Mk 82, although looks nice but inappropriate. It's because the Mk 82 was made during the Vietnam war.

Even then after the show was telecast, many of my senior Warrant Officers from the Army took me to task asking me if there was a female doctor in the Navy at that time...(now we have one) and other minor pointers like a certain bus that does not ply the route.

This high expectation will always be there. Lets give ourselves a second chance.

Jack could called the movie "Ah Boys to Men 3" we still will want to scold him now for not naming the show "Ah Boys to frogmen"

Lets give the younger generation a chance to quantum leap we cannot be left stagnant.

EARLIER: Remembering my first drowned body job

UPDATE: The movie trailer

UPDATE UPDATE: What Patrick thinks of the movie after it was released