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Saturday March 13, 2010

Backseat frolics backfire

He leads a seemingly impeccable family life. But after he confessed to a two-year affair with a model half his age, and with more scandals surfacing, filmmaker Jack Neo is being likened to Tiger Woods

AMERICA has its Tiger Woods, and now it looks like prudish Singapore, too, may have its own version of a celebrity with a scandalous sex life.

The dubious honour belongs to Singapore’s famous filmmaker Jack Neo, who has played a major role in reshaping the local movie industry.

The difference between Neo and Tiger is that no one has yet labelled his involvement with a number of women aged between 20 and 40 as a sex addiction. But a few had advised him to go for counselling.

The 50-year-old actor-producer confessed to a two-year affair with a young model less than half his age, sending shockwaves through this conservative society.

In the spotlight: Neo pausing while talking to the media during a press conference in Singapore on Thursday. — Straits Times

The scandal took a political turn when a Cabinet minister and a Member of Parliament from Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s constituency both threw their support behind Neo.

Their surprising intervention fed speculation that Neo may have already been selected to run as a candidate for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in the next election.

If politics had indeed been the film personality’s ambition, the scandal would likely have blown it apart.

Yet in all appearances, Neo, who speaks with a strong Mandarin accent, appears an unlikely candidate to be a serial adulterer.

Outwardly, he leads a seemingly impeccable life.

For 27 years he has stayed married to one woman, Irene, and has four children.

Many of the 16 films that he has produced since 1997 reflect traditional or family values with a tinge of folksy humour, and are very popular with the heartland masses.

For his contribution to society, Neo won several national awards, including the Public Service Medal (PBM) and Cultural Medallion.

Like Tiger, his peccadilloes have cast a shadow over his career.

One advertiser, Mitsubishi Electric Asia, has stopped using him to sponsor its products.

And, the survival of his movie company, J-Team Productions, is uncertain since many of its stars say they will leave when their contract ends.

His best friend Mark Lee intends to start a new firm.

At last count, the number of involved women has risen to 11.

One tabloid published some details of them.

“Neo is abusing his influence, peddling fame and money to lure young and impressionable girls to the bed,” one report said.

The mistress, Wendy Chong, 22, said her affair with Neo started two years ago.

Their encounters had been taking place twice a week, often at the back of his specially-furnished vehicle.

She blew the whistle when she felt Neo had “cheated on” her.

The wife, Irene, decided to forgive him for the sake of the family.

Soon, other scandals began to surface in newspaper reports.

Two other young women emerged to say that Neo had allegedly harassed them for sex, promising fame or work.

A half-French woman, Maelle Maurzec, 21, said she was propositioned five years ago when she was only 16 while acting in one of his movies.

“This guy is supposedly promoting family values but he can’t even hold himself back from sending SMSes to a 16-year-old. I thought he’s a bit of a creep, a sleaze ball,” Maurzec told a newspaper.

The scandal also brought to light Neo’s close links with the political leadership.

Foreign Minister George Yeo wrote that Neo had informed him of his affair before the news broke.

The minister appealed to Singaporeans to “... rally around Jack, his wife and his children at this time”.

Then, MP Lim Biow Chuan (Marine Parade) also threw his support behind Neo, saying “since he is remorseful over this incident, he should be forgiven”.

“Actually, a man who has a good career development would find such scenarios unavoidable,” he reportedly said.

When he came under fire, the MP claimed he had been misquoted.

The support of politicians has proven to be premature.

Since then, a spate of other cases has surfaced in news reports.

“One woman may be an act of indiscretion, but a dozen women show a character flaw,” said a retired teacher.

“Doesn’t the special seat in his car tell anyone that it was for a purpose?”

The famed movie maker’s worth to the ruling party is easy to understand. His films have a mass appeal to the Chinese-speaking heartland.

An example can be gleaned from his latest movie, Being Human.

In one scene, an unscrupulous character played by Lee and dressed in white (the PAP’s traditional garb) was asked if he had been recruited.

He replied: “Yes, but I turned it down because they have no corruption.”

Neo often uses his movies to speak up for ordinary Singaporeans and explain their hardships, as well as poke fun at government bureaucrats.

Some of the public adulation may have evaporated.

Most liberal-minded men regard peccadilloes as common in the film industry and, therefore, acceptable. But the majority of Singaporeans, especially women, detests Neo for his adulterous habit.

Will Neo ever make a comeback?

In this business, never is too long a time, and Singaporeans have short memories.

Neo is talented, and as long as he can make appealing films, the crowds will be there – after a cooling-off period.

“The PAP is so proud and protective of Jack Neo that he may be picked as the Master of Ceremonies for the National Day Celebration,” commented a Singaporean.

Others think not.

One blogger said: “Lee Kuan Yew has always asked Singaporeans to embrace Confucius’ values and turn away from Western values.”

So, he asked, how can they accept someone who is a known seducer of women, including young girls?

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