SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): In the new local caper comedy What! The Heist, a lottery company is targeted by a group of con artists looking to fix the draw. It is payback for the profits lotteries raked in over the years, say the crooks by way of justification.
Singaporeans and Malaysians have a love-hate relationship with the lottery, especially around Chinese New Year, when the ticket-buying lines swell.
Opening in Singapore cinemas on Thursday (Jan 19), the movie offers a measure of wish fulfilment because the bad guys make it so they are guaranteed to win, says Malaysian actor Jack Lim, 47.
“The lottery represents hope. It’s a human desire. But when you don’t get the big prizes, you hate the company,” he adds.
Lim, his castmate Singaporean actor-comedian Mark Lee and Malaysian director Matt Lai were speaking to The Straits Times at a press event at the Park Regis Singapore on Tuesday.
“The lotteries might raise funds for charity, but that doesn’t matter when your ticket doesn’t win,” says Lim.
What! The Heist can be called a Singapore-Malaysia co-production, say the two leads Lim and Lee. According to Lee, 54, the two of them had been talking about creating a project together for over a decade. But the timing was never right until last year, when schedules aligned and filming started, around the Kuala Lumpur area.
But viewers will not be able to pinpoint exactly where events in the film are happening, as the team took great pains to obscure the locations – special non-specific car licence plates were used and the usual Malaysia movie landmarks, such as the Petronas Towers, are avoided. Instead, they opted to shoot in lesser-known areas.
Says Lim: “We want the audience to feel this is not the usual kind of movie. From the music to post-production, we wanted to make it feel different.”
The story opens by showing the criminal Choy Gor (Lim) released from prison after taking the fall for his leader Big Boss (Henry Thia). Lee plays Chao Yan Fatt, who happens to be a version of Chow Yun Fat in real life.
Chao, whose name is a joking reference to the Hong Kong superstar with the similar-sounding name, is a money-strapped actor who ventures into crime to pay medical bills.
The gang hatches a plan to tamper with the lottery’s draw equipment. They pool their skills in acting, computers and sleight of hand to achieve the impossible.
What! The Heist has an ironic sense of humour. Chao is an actor with a Golden Horse Awards nomination, like Lee in real life. One character speaks disparagingly of intrusive product placement in films and, a few minutes later, there is a scene with product placement in it.
Lee says: “As long as it’s done the right way, and as long as the sponsor placement is funny, it’s okay.”
Coincidentally, Lee has two movies out this Chinese New Year, the other being the comedy-drama The King Of Musang King, directed by and starring Jack Neo, which opens on Saturday.
Like Heist, Musang King was filmed in Malaysia. It tells the story of Mei Lian (Yeo Yann Yann), a struggling durian farmer and single mother who turns to neighbouring farmer Mao Shan (Neo) for help. Lee plays her estranged husband Jin Shui.
Lee says it just so happened that last year, he worked on both projects that would open this Chinese New Year. His characters are vastly different, however – he is a brash businessman in Musang King and a soft-spoken crook in Heist. Tonally, the films are also different, he adds.
“If you like family pictures, you can go to Musang King. If you want more comedy, see Heist,” he says.