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Film / I Not Stupid

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I Not Stupid is a satirical film directed by Jack Neo (who also played a role) that premiered in 2002 and touches upon several aspects of Singaporean society, primarily "streaming" in the education system and its impact on both the unfortunate children and their families.

The story follows three children in Primary 6 [sixth grade]: Terry Khoo, Liu Kok Pin and Ang Boon Hock, who have been placed in the EM3 stream. Because EM3 is seen, perhaps rightly, as a dumping ground for the lowest academic performers, the three are constantly belittled by their peers and by society in general. From the very beginning, the film shows the consequences of being placed in EM3. Their word is not as good as that of their classmates or their classmates' parents. Their home lives suffer as their parents become frustrated by their inability to help their children. One teacher after another gives up on the so-called "lost cause" students.

Although academic streaming is a major element of the movie, it is also used as a vehicle to touch upon other general social issues, such as excessive deference to authority and the fundamental breakdown in communication between parents and children. I Not Stupid became the third-highest grossing film in Singapore, behind two of Jack Neo's other films: Money No Enough and the sequel, I Not Stupid Too. It was eventually adapted into a TV series that expanded on some of the issues covered in the original, though Jack Neo played a smaller role in its production.

Contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The television series, as it's in hour-long episodes instead of a single hour-and-a-half feature. Most notably, it tries to show that Kok Pin's mother was not being needlessly cruel but was under a considerable amount of pressure from wanting her son to do well and having been passed over for promotion by a younger colleague with a degree.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Boon Hock's cousin Chong-Ming in the movie is The Bully, who constantly makes fun of the main trio for being "class idiots", instigates a fight with the trio (which leads to Boon Hock's friend, Kwok Pin, getting reprimanded by the discipline teacher) and leaves the movie without a trace for reasons unknown. In the TV series however, Chong-Ming had a subplot where it turns out he's constantly pressured by his mother to excel in his studies and gains a bit of Break the Haughty after he failed his own exams, only to be comforted by Terry, one of the trio he frequently picks on. He's a lot less smug later on and when the school asks for volunteers for a blood drive to save Kwok Pin's mother from leukemia, Chong-Ming is the first upper-class students to volunteer (while his blood is incompatible at the end, at least he tried to save the mother of one of his bullying victims, unlike his film counterpart).
  • Afraid of Needles: Terry insists he isn't... only to scream his head off and cry aloud during a school vaccination event, much to the amusement of his entire class. As it turns out, his father Jerry Khoo shares the same phobia during the hospital scene!
  • Alliterative Family: Late into the film, it turns out Terry Khoo's father (only known as Mr. Khoo up to that point) is named Jerry Khoo.
  • Barefoot Suicide: Kwok Pin, after failing his final exam, attempts to throw himself off a building rather than face his grieving parents. He takes off his shoes and is about to climb up a balcony, but then he's interrupted by the police chasing after a bunch of punks and they just so happen to bump into him.
  • Bilingual Bonus: It's a Singaporean film, so expect Mandarin, English, and a dash of dialects here and there.
    • The drama averts this by being completely in Mandarin.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Terry in the end of the movie, echoing the beginning.
  • Book Ends: Terry's first and last scene are in a party, where at the beginning he's being bullied by his father's guests and looked down by his own sister for being a crybaby. Towards the end, the same bullies tries picking on him again, and this time Terry fights back by knocking the two into a banquet table full of food.
    Terry (at the end): This is my house. Can you please respect me?
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Don't you know how lucky you are to have such good and responsible parents?"
    • "Everything we do is for your own good."
    • "Wow, you're really obedient!"
  • Character Development: Terry has the greatest out of the trio. From an obedient, selfish boy to a selfless kid who even saved a life.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A Chinese worker under Mr Khoo does not get the raise he wanted. Guess who kidnaps Terry midway through the film?
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kok Pin's drawing skills is something to speak of. While Mrs. Liu doesn't appreciate it at first, after helping the police catch a kidnapper whom he has seen the face of, as well as winning a drawing contest, it's hard not for her to be proud.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Acting on advice from her colleagues, Mrs. Liu starts caning her son. He does a good job of making it look incredibly painful (which it is).
  • Extreme Doormat: Terry, and this is actively encouraged by his mother, who tells him to "let the maid do everything" and "mind your own business, it doesn't concern you". He grows out of that, though, and eventually donates his bone marrow to Mrs Liu after convincing his mother that they cannot afford to be very selfish.
  • Gilligan Cut: When the EM3 homeroom teacher is lecturing on the importance of learning Chinese in Singapore, suddenly we get treated to Mr. Liu's boss talking about how it isn't actually necessary to succeed in life.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Terry's parents arrive to collect Selena from the police station. Paired with Mood Whiplash, because at the same time the Lius come and pick up their son.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Kok Pin attempts to jump off a high-rise flat after flunking another test when Selena and her friends are evading police capture.
  • Kidnapper's KFC: Terry and his friend Boon Hock getting abducted by a kidnapper who turns out to be a discharged ex-employee of Terry's father. While in their custody, Terry, being a meek, spoiled kid from a rich family, whines that he only wants Pink Dolphin Calcium (a Singapore-based healthy beverage) for breakfast, with which the kidnapper complies. The TV-series remake plays this trope straight by having the kidnappers buying KFC instead.
  • Large Ham: Terry's father. He rarely speaks mildly.
  • No Antagonist: It's a drama film revolving around three elementary-school kids facing their exams, while their respective families tries facing challenges in the business worlds in a failing economy. The closest character the movie has to a "bad guy" is the two kidnappers who abducts Terry, but they're hardly the film's main focus.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Nah, that's not Jackie Chan attending the barbequed meat repackaging promotion. They dressed up an actor to look like him.
  • Outside-the-Box Tactic: When the Khoo family's bak kwa business fails to meet up against their new competitors, a major business firm from Taiwan who started expanding into South East Asia, the Khoo family eventually decides to work together with Mr. Khoo's supposed rival, the Liu family (after all, Terry Khoo did save the Liu's wife by donating his bone marrow for her leukemia). Mr. Liu finally comes up with a brilliant tactic: bak kwa-flavored chewing gum. It sells like crazy and saves the Khoo family's business from bankruptcy.
  • Product Placement: "I want to drink Pink Dolphin Calcium!"
  • Self-Deprecation: "Catching fish in Singapore is hard, because Singaporean fish are like Singaporeans themselves: They never open their mouths!"
  • Take That!:
    • Terry's mother is a thinly-veiled, but affectionate shot at the Singaporean government.
    • John, the American, is one for professional foreign talent, especially when it comes to Oriental culture. Using strippers to promote barbequed pork slices? Not the brightest of ideas.
  • Take That, Audience!: At the beginning and end of the film.