Follow TV Tropes


Film / Ah Boys to Men

Go To
Welcome to Ninja Company

"But this prosperous nation did not come about by chance. It is because, of what you are wearing right now!"
Captain Tham, Officer in-Command, Ninja Company.

Ah Boys to Men is a series of Singaporean-Malaysian made Tokusatsu comedy-drama films directed by Jack Neo. The main subject of the movies is about the young men of Singapore undergoing their two-year mandatory National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The films also explores the various issues faced by the recruits such as coping with the new stressful military environment, mixing around with different people of various races and personalities and finding a sense of purpose in serving the nation.

The film is centred around a young man named Ken Chow, a hot-headed rebellious youth who is forced to serve his two years of NS when he is enlisted into Basic Military Training in Pulau Tekong as a recruit in Ninja Company - Platoon 2, Section 2. He initially bemoans his fate alongside his squadmates; Bang "Lobang" Lee Onn, Aloysius Jin a.k.a "Wayang King", Man In Ping a.k.a "I P Man", Ismail Mohammed and Muthu Shanmugaratnam. As striking personalities and different upbringings clash, they will slowly learn about themselves as well as each other as they train to become soldiers and learn what it means to become a man.

Ah Boys to Men Part 1 was the highest grossing movie in Singapore of all time, earning over SGD$234,000 on opening day, and over S$6.3 million in local box office sales, almost three times it's original budget.

The movie was initially broken into two parts, but due to the success of the first two and buoyed by fans for a sequel, Ah Boys to Men 3 was released on February 19, 2015. Instead of being a direct continuation, the film presents an alternate scenario where most of the cast, plus newcomer Hei Long, are being trained in the Naval Diving Unit instead.

The fourth movie is already released in Singapore on November 9, 2017. However, it made news when a Singaporean actor of Indian background accuses the production crew of stereotyping Indians. A fifth movie was announced.

A spin-off titled Ah Girls Go Army was released in 2022, but it has been met with a lot of controversy. A sequel, Ah Girls Go Army Again was announced for production.

There is also a web series titled Ah Boys: Hidden Warfare, which follows the main characters as they attempt to navigate the workplace.

The series consist of the movies, comic adaptations and even a musical show.

This franchise provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    Ah Boys to Men Part 1 & 2 

Tropes pertaining Part I's prologue:

  • Action Prologue: The first 10 minutes portrays the peaceful island nation of Singapore being invaded by an unknown enemy force while the entire SAF scrambles to defend their homeland. Scenes include dense city street fighting, to tight urban warfare and aerial dogfights happening overhead.
  • All Just a Dream: The entire prologue was set up to be a video game simulation being played by Ken Chow, his girlfriend along with the rest of his friends in an internet cafe.
  • Death of a Child: Subverted. An OPFOR infantryman menacingly approaches several terrified children. One of them begs the soldier not to hurt them while the man coldly levels his rifle... only to hit everything but the cowering children. Played Sraight in later scenes, as several civilian casualties are revealed to be teenagers and a young girl is even graphically shot on-screen.
  • Faceless Mooks: All of the OPFOR soldiers notably wear fully covered headgear including tinted goggles and balaclavas, in comparison to the Singapore Army, who don clear visor goggles and facial camo.
  • For the Evulz: Aside from total occupation, the OPFOR army in the prologue does not seem to have any reasonable objective other than wanton destruction and to violently murder and terrorize the civilian populace.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The prologue is full of this trope displayed by both sides: Justified, as it was all a simulation provided by a video game.
    • The unknown hostile force begins their invasion... by sending a single fighter jet ahead of the main force presumably as a scout... which engages the responding Air Force in a suicidal sortie.
    • Enemy air strikes also seem to prioritize civilian targets while completely ignoring legit military targets such as base camps and vital infrastructure, as evident by scenes depicting several military units assembling, then rallying forces and vehicles completely unimpeded by any kind of enemy attack.
    • SAF ground troops supporting an armoured column casually walk right out in the open street with no cover, and as a result one of the lead scouts get shot for his trouble and a frantic firefight ensues.
    • An OPFOR Apache flies at a ridiculously low altitude then necessary to provide air cover, successfully destroying a Terrex... right within range of a surviving APC's mounted weapons.
  • Jumping on a Grenade: As a dying OPFOR soldier releases a grenade in a room full of cowering civilians, a nearby SAF soldier heroically leaps onto it, getting killed in the process... only said soldier was actually the player character of Ken, in a video game.
  • Monumental Damage: Several prominent landmarks such as the Merlion Statue and the Esplanade get obliterated by missile fire. A comedic instance happens to the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, where an explosion sends a slot machine spinning towards the camera in slow-motion. Displaying a full 7 row. Jackpot!
  • Mood Whiplash: Amongst the several gritty dark war scenes, several left-field jokes get inserted, such as a family frantically cramping into their apartment's bomb shelter/storeroom... only to find that is full of bulky stuff and when they finally made enough space with barely enough room and then locked themselves in, a child announces he has to shit badly. The family does not take this well and comically panics. The scene then immediately cuts to actual screaming civilians out in the open streets dodging bullets, explosions and genuinely running for their lives.
  • Scenery Gorn: The camera pans up multiple times to the sight of devastated neighbourhoods on fire with smokestacks billowing into the bleak, grey skies.
  • Take Cover!: Both Singaporean and OPFOR forces use this when they're in small arms engagements.
  • Urban Warfare: The first few minutes of the movie have this between OPFOR and Singaporean soldiers.
  • War Is Hell: Not the intended purpose of this scene, but imagine: bloodthirsty aggressors turning a peaceful country into chaos, its people into tragic statistics, and its icons of prosperity into ruins. It's hard not to make the relation.

Tropes found in the movies proper:

  • An Aesop:
    • Making an ass out of yourself (intentionally or not) will get you into trouble with everyone you know.
    • Director Jack Neo mentions in a few interviews that he made the movies because of a growing generation of Singaporeans who are now questioning the legitimacy of National Service since there aren't any "threats" to its national security after the end of the Cold War.
  • Always Identical Twins: Ken's sisters look like each other.
  • Arc Words: "Leave No Man Behind!"
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When CPT Tham asked Ken why he participated in the Diner Brawl, he didn't expect it to be because he was following the army's teachings of "Leave No Man Behind". The six recruits Ken rescued didn't either.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Averted for the most part. Recruits are almost always seen with fingers off the trigger. In one instance Lobang, while trying to comparing the similarities of a rifle and a girlfriend to I P Man recklessly points his rifle towards his fellow recruits. When his sergeant calls him out for it, Lobang accidentally swerves the rifle barrel past the Platoon Sergeant and the rifle range master causing both to duck out of the way, and earning himself a chewing out later on.
  • Band of Brothers: As with any military force in the world, Ninja Company Platoon 2 Section 2 becomes this by the end of their BMT training.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: A lot of dialogue is spoken in a mix of English and Chinese. Most of the Chinese recruits frequently and casually speak to one another in various dialects like Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien. Even Malay and Tamil get spoken by recruits with everyone having little difficulty understanding them, although in one instance a confused recruit does request for a translation. Truth in Television, as it accurately depicts the cultural diversity of Singapore.
  • Blatant Lies: In the beginning, Ken's mother tries to get her son exempted from service by listing out an incredulous amount of debilitating conditions he supposedly has to a doctor.
    Doctor: Excuse me? Is your son still alive?
  • The Chains of Commanding: The SAF's safety first policy during training is constantly repeated throughout the film (and as its Real Life policy) and the competent superiors are very much aware of this. After the events of Ken's 'accident' and subsequently real medical emergency, the blame game is played in a slightly comedic fashion. Starting with Section Commander 3rd Sergeant Jed Heng (3SG) chewing out recruits for not taking care of their own… followed by Platoon Sergeant Alex Ong (2SG) reprimanding Sgt. Heng for his lack of responsibility of his section… followed by Platoon Commander 2nd Lieutenant Soh (2LT) berating Sgt. Ong's lack of responsibility for the platoon as a whole… who promptly gets chewed out by the Company Officer in-Command, Captain Tham (CPT)… so on and so forth. It continues up the command ladder until it seemingly reaches the highest echelons of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) but culminating in Ken's mother chewing out the government itself for not taking good care of her son. Mummy > Army indeed.
  • Character Development: A driving plot point of the movie. As BMT progresses, several characters physically and mentally improve, as they slowly begin to accepting army life as well as each another by acknowledging one another's shortcomings and strengths and by working together.
    • Ken slowly realizes his selfish ways causes undue harm to loved ones as well as his comrades. However he initially tries to fix this by becoming even more gung-ho than Wayang King. This further worsens his relations to the section and especially his buddy, Lobang, until the restaurant brawl, where he finally makes up for his mistakes by selflessly helping his teammates out.
    • Aloysius' lack of camaraderie is finally addressed by himself realizing that teamwork and empathy is much more valuable than attaining self glory. He also manages to outgrow his cowardice, and by the third film gathers enough courage to chew a bully who pushed him too far into a wreck.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: While less frequent (not to mention illegal) in today's military life, the first and second generation SAF were very much subject to comparatively much more harsher treatments. From kissing trees to standing in various poses shouting embarrassing phrases, any recruit subjected to these is a tell-tale sign that they must have screwed-up majorly.
    • Ismail is subject to this after openly mocking his Platoon Sergeant and Section Commander, and as a result he is 'kena tio marked' (marked) for a while.
    Lobang: 'Tio marked' ah, is a kind of punishment, but on the record ah, it is not a punishment.
    Ismail with a confused look: ...Huh?
  • Cool Guns: Counting out the various rifles Mrs Chow fires at the government official in the Imagine Spot below, the SAR 21 feature prominently in the film, as it is the weapon of choice for the SAF.
  • Cue the Rain: The break-up scene with Ken and his girlfriend.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Section 2's military training pays off during the escape from Real Bullet's cronies when the recruits manage to outmanoeuvre and out-run the thugs.... except for I P Man, who previously had problems with scaling the low wall, similarly struggles to jump over one, but is thankfully helped over by his comrades.
    • Ken's previous attitude as an 'Ah Beng' and brawling skills comes back usefully to bail his friends from Real Bullet's gang attack.
  • Cycle of Revenge: An Aesop learnt during I P Man's break-up arc. After losing his girlfriend to 'Real Bullet', I P Man plans to get back at Bullet by posting a video ridiculing his girlfriend and Bullet himself with faux boob (actually Ken's buttocks,) kissing. Real Bullet then post another video with himself and I P Man's ex-girlfriend engaging in an even more intimate act, shaming I P Man completely. Aloysius, having just learnt from his father that any action will be met with even greater action tells his buddy I P Man not to retaliate, but the platoon disagrees and goes on their plan to pelt Real Bullet and his girlfriend by means of Dung Fu. The plan succeeds, but later a very pissed-off Bullet and gang retaliates by physically assaulting Section 2 during their book-in dinner.
  • Dark Reprise: The platoon torments Aloysius, who ran off to call the police, with a negative rendition of Training to be Soldiers during one of their route marches to mock his cowardice.
    Platoon: Training to be COWARDS! Fight for MYSELF!!!
  • Death Glare: The entire Platoon 2 give one to Aloysius after his boast causes the platoon to lose their smoking privileges while addressing their less-than satisfactory performance in IPPT. Bonus points to the fact that turning and glaring was part of the sizing-up footdrill.
  • Diner Brawl: Section 2's peaceful pre book-in dinner is violently interrupted by a vengeful Real Bullet and his gang, landing the squad in deep trouble with the local authorities and their own superiors, but provides Ken redemption when he selflessly rushes in to defend his friends.
  • Dirty Coward: The section labels Aloysius as this, after he decides to save his own skin rather than help his buddy and the section out during the food centre melee.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Played With. Platoon 2 is subjected to regular discipline under the command of Platoon Sgt. Alex Ong. While tough on his recruits, Platoon Sgt. Alex Ong is a reasonable commander who genuinely wants to shape his recruits into future leaders. During Ken's accident, he is genuinely concerned and even pays him visits at the hospital.
    • During Ken's uncle's flashbacks however, his Platoon Sergeant plays this trope terrifyingly straight, as standards back then were much, much tougher.
  • Expository Theme Tune/"Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: The Recruits' Anthem. It was done by Tosh Zhang.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Due to the multi-racial and bilingual nature of Singaporeans as a whole, a lot of Hokkien, Cantonese and even Malay insults are spoken almost casually amongst the recruits and commanders. Truth in Television as well.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: I P Man uses this as an excuse to get freaky with his girlfriend Mayoki one last time before he enlists. Lovemaking ensues.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Ken's plan to intentionally fall sick during route march works exactly as planned... but his heatstroke became serious enough for a helicopter evacuation to the nearest mainland hospital. News of his condition reaches his family and they rush over to see him. Unfortunately, his father driving from work suffers a stroke along the way and ends up in a car crash, debilitating him permanently.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: During field camp, Lobang tries to get Aloysius in trouble by stealing his rifle's magazine 'losing' it in hopes of watching Wayang King punished with a weekend confinement. As he stealthily removes Wayang's magazine, an errant sneeze causes Lobang's rifle magazine to unknowingly drop right next to the sleeping Wayang, thus losing his own mag after throwing away Wayang's, only to have Wayang wake up later and unintentionally re-appropriate Lobang's mag. When Lobang returns, he realizes his mistake, but the platoon get summoned and he almost gets into trouble himself, were it not for Wayang's first selfless act of taking one for the team by quickly passing back the magazine and claiming the loss to be his own.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Or rather, Honest Ah Beng's Dealership. Lobang runs a sort of black market of cell phone batteries and petty contraband items like sweets within his section. There's even a scene where he calls his mysterious suppliers telling them to re-charge more batteries and stock up as the current demand within camp is high. Played for Laughs as he genuinely wants to help them as much as he can and is frequently loaning his products to buddies in need seemingly at no cost.
  • I Owe You My Life: In the aftermath of the Diner Brawl, Lobang says this to Ken, who promptly gets him and the other smokers in the platoon to quit smoking because "you owe your life to me so I can do whatever I like with it". Lobang decides to go along with it.
  • Imagine Spot: A staple of Jack Neo's movies:
    • While discussing with the army commanders about the possibility of issuing each soldier with a personal maid, Ken's mum imagines herself and her mother fully decked out in army gear, but commanding her maid to scout for enemies. It doesn't end well for the maid.
    • After Ken's hospitalization, his mother rats off a string of complaints and grief to the ministers while several M4A1s, HK416s, Barrett M82A1s, Bushmaster ACRs and several recoilless rifles raise up behind her in a firing line, peppering holes into the poor government official nodding meekly on the receiving end of her grief-laden tirade.
    • Aloysius' father explains to his son a theoretical battle scenario, complete with CGI miniature jets, tanks and battleships duking it out with one another within a shopping centre foodcourt. A stall attendant even dodges an F15SG fighter jet buzzing past his head!
    • The Battle Inoculation Course become a little too real for I P Man while there is only a live GPMG firing overhead well beyond the safe height. He hallucinates additional amounts of explosions and bullet ricochets as if an actual battle was raging around him. He freezes under the pressure and is physically unable to move on, causing Ken to leave him behind carelessly.
    • During field camp, an exhausted Lobang is encouraged by Ken to imagine himself surrounded by cooling fans while surrounded by hot chicks. Lobang enjoys his temporary moment of bliss.... until a vision of a bikini-clad Sgt. Heng screams at him to wake up.
  • In-Series Nickname: Several characters get called by names during their time at Pulau Tekong. It is very common for initials on a soldier's name tag to be used as a basis for their nickname.
    • Bang Lee Onnnote , introduces himself as 'Lobang'. In typical Singaporean-Malaysian slang it means opportunities (of the profitful kind). He's the only one who's referred to by nickname even by his commanders.
      • Amusingly, 'Lobang' is also the corrupt spelling of the Malay word for 'hole'.
    • Man In Pingnote  a.k.a 'I P Man', for obvious reasons.
    • Aloysius Jin is immediately referred to as 'Wayang King' note , a common title for military ass-kissers and try-hards.
    • Ken Chow doesn't have one, but at times given mocking names such as 'Chao Keng' (people who fake calling in sick) or 'Best Recruit'.
  • Leave No Man Behind: A motto of the SAF and a quality Ken takes to heart later on.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Ken goes through this once he realized his selfish actions had recklessly endangered himself and caused his father to become permanently paralysed.
  • Nostalgia Filter: The flashback segments are seen as this to Ken's Uncle and his father whenever they speak fondly about their days in green.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: One of Ken's uncle's stories revolve around a seemingly off-rails recruit obsessively searching for something, ransacking the entire bunk and causing grief to others in doing so. Eventually the army psychiatrics deemed his mind a lost cause and medically discharges him. While settling discharge papers, the recruit has his Identity Card returned, all smiles as he holds it up to the audience announcing, "This is what I was looking for."
  • Oh, Crap!: Generally whenever a commander catches the recruits for any infraction.
    • Lobang, acting as the Platoon IC (In-Charge) tries to ogle at women recruits with his platoon by intentionally marching them alongside a passing female company but then he spots their platoon commanders glaring at them... cue tekan session.
    • During the grenade live-throwing exercise, both I P man and Sgt. Ong sport a big one after I P Man accidentally tries to hand over an unpinned grenade to his bay Sergeant instead of the pin.
    • Ismail's Right Behind Me moment, after he turns around and sees his commanders.
  • Playing Sick: The local term, 'Chao Keng' is tossed around frequently labelling such recruits that fake illnesses to escape training or even get medically discharged from the army. Ken and Lobang are frequent malingerers. Ken pays very dearly for one such instance.
  • Product Placement:
    • After one of the characters is dumped by his girlfriend in the rain, a passerby prominently wearing a KPMG shirt gives him an umbrella.
    • The prologue had SMRT cabs prominently displayed amongst the battlefield.
    • Toast Box and BreadTalk make frequent appearances or mentions during the movie.
  • Right Behind Me: After pranking a depressed I P Man by feigning the whole room to be at attention, Ismail continues to mock the commanders right as all of Platoon 2's leadership including the Company OC, enters the room looking completely unamused while his friends silently try to warn him. He especially degrades Platoon Sgt. Ong and Sgt. Heng in a short rant before finally turning around and noticing them. Cue distressed look on his face which leads up to his Cool and Unusual Punishment.
  • Rite of Passage: National Service is treated as such in Singapore as it forces a boy to grow into a man by teaching them the importance of defending their own country.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spiritual Successor: Can be seen as one for the movie Army Daze. It follows the same themes/ideas that the trilogy has.
  • Spoiled Brat: Ken Chow is this initially; he lives a lavish life in a bungalow, is overly reliant on his maid, is constantly pampered and spoiled by his mother, is very reluctant to serve NS and easily breaks into anger tantrums. His father disapproves of this behaviour and desperately wants his son to change. He eventually humbles himself as his training goes on.
  • Teacher's Pet: Or rather, "Sergeant's Pet". Aloysius 'Wayang King' Jin is the military trainee version of this trope to a tee. His obsession with the idea of getting into OCS (Officer Cadet School) makes him overly-enthusiastic, constantly volunteering for everything and trying to make himself look good, at the expense of the rest of the section's approval. This lack of camaraderie immediately puts him at odds with Section 2 for a good portion of the movies and is later bullied and called out on it by almost everyone, including the Platoon Sergeant.
  • They Don't Make Them Like They Used To: The film also explores the common comparisons to a cosy, privileged modern army life to the comparatively more hellish and cruel treatments faced by the first generation SAF veterans.
  • Throw the Pin: Ip Man does this in Part 2.
  • Training from Hell: Played With. The recruits are undergoing basic training which is designed realistically to take the average household kid and toughen them up for the rest of their military service. Obviously several recruits do not share the same sentiment. Several flashback segments depict the older generations of the SAF undergoing even tougher and comparatively more cruel forms of treatment from their basic training.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: This one reveals the eventual fates of the recruits as they move on to their vocational duties:
    • Ken Chow enters Specialist Cadet School where his exemplary performance earns him a Golden Bayonet award, giving him the opportunity to attend Officer Cadet School.
    • Lobang exceeds everyone's expectations and enters OCS due to his unorthodox leadership qualities.
    • Aloysius Jin doesn't make it to OCS, but gets another chance at leadership via Specialist Cadet School.
    • IP Man becomes a technician when posted to the Air Force.
    • Ismail gets posted into the Military Police where he becomes an Investigation Officer.
    • Muthu is posted to the Navy as a Weapons Control Specialist where he signs on as a regular.

    Ah Boys to Men 3: Frogmen 

  • Action Prologue: The film starts with a Flash Forward to the trained frogmen carrying out an anti-piracy operation on a hijacked ship. Explicitly said to not be a drill or simulation, unlike the first two films. It then rewinds to show How We Got Here.
  • Alternate Continuity: The film presents itself as a What If? scenario, where most of the crew from the first two movies inexplicably end up in the Naval Diving Unit instead of Tekong.
  • Blatant Lies: The boys try getting someone to bring food in from out of camp. The deliverer encounters one of the instructors, who proceeds to "assure" him that he's not an instructor and is just Younger Than They Look. Somehow, the deliverer falls for it.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Aloysius due to his injuries incurred in the Action Prologue.
  • Brick Joke: The embarrassing 'Make love, not war' handsign gesture Aloysius constantly employs was really actually taught to him by his 'Special Forces Tutors' as revealed in the after-credits.
  • Cowardly Lion: Aloysius. He keeps getting pushed around by Hei Long, but the latter eventually goes too far and gets the tables turned on him, sealed off with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Unlike the previous two movies being narrated and primarily centred on Ken Chow, Frogmen is primarily told in the eyes of Lobang and Aloysius.
  • Demoted to Extra: Due to his actor actually having enlisted in the Army, I P Man doesn't appear in the main film but is reduced to being Continuity Cameo in The Stinger.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: The Naval Diving Unit is presented in all its awe and hellish training regimes, often compared to the US Navy Seals.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Fistfight: Lobang's mother tries using a cleaver and gets easily disarmed. But how else could an inexperienced civilian vs two commandos-in-training have gone?
  • Product Placement: KPMG gets mentioned again, although as just a namedrop this time. So are Toast Box and Bread Talk.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The instructors, while harsh, are also understanding. For one, they let Lobang, who went AWOL to save his sister, avoid a court martial.
  • Red Baron: "Number 2" Warrant Lum, who got his nickname for diving without an oxygen tank for the second longest duration. The record holder is a British diver who never resurfaced from his dive in 1963.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Aloysius can vouch for his cabin-mates that they were definitely not gambling against camp rules.
  • Thicker Than Water: A plot point later on. Lobang's drug addict mother turns violent against his sister and he goes AWOL to stop her. After some struggle, he decides to call the police on her.

    Ah Boys to Men 4 

    Ah Boys: Hidden Warfare 
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the first episode, when I P Man is filling up an application form for a job, he misinteprets the box marked "sex". As he is filling out the rest of the form, one can see the word "virgin" in the box scribbled out and replaced with "once a week".

"We're not just buddies, we are a band of brothers."