The Polemical Rhetoric of Jack Neo’s Ah Boys to Men and Repertoires of Filmic Masculinity as Sacrifice in Singapore

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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  • John Lowe


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-488
Journal / PublicationAsian Studies Review
Issue number3
Online published13 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


In Singapore, a strict policy of male conscription or national service (hereafter, NS) that transforms boys into men is carefully calibrated to maintain support from the civilian sector. I argue that, in the widely acclaimed Ah Boys to Men film series directed by Jack Neo, cinematic scripts of military masculinities are inflected by class and ethnicity. While Neo's film series does not depart from the realities of everyday multiculturalism in Singapore as celebratory, the film is a rhetorical resource of the patriarchal state, albeit one that lacks finesse, which prepares teenage males for their indelible rites of passage into manhood. The film represents the symbolic power of the state in communicating the necessity of conscription as a proving ground of masculinity. In counteracting rhetorical fears of training fatalities and injuries to disarm questions about the relevance of male conscription, the state is careful not to undermine its militarised ambitions. Instead, it deploys curious narratives of masculinised sacrifice to propagate ideological control of the citizenry.

Research Area(s)

  • Ah Boys to Men, Singapore Armed Forces, national service, masculinities, conscription, MULTICULTURALISM, AUTHORITARIANISM, COSMOPOLITANISM, GENDER, CINEMA, WOMEN, LABOR, ISSUE, STATE, ARMY