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I Not Stupid

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I Not Stupid
I Not Stupid.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJack Neo
Written byJack Neo
Produced byDavid Leong
Chan Pui Yin
StarringJack Neo
Xiang Yun
Richard Low
Selena Tan
Shawn Lee
Huang Po Ju
Joshua Ang
Distributed byUnited International Pictures
Release date
  • 9 February 2002 (2002-02-09) (Singapore)
Running time
105 min
LanguageMandarin / Hokkien / English

I Not Stupid (Chinese: 小孩不笨; pinyin: Xiǎohái Bù Bèn; lit. 'Children are not stupid') is a 2002 Singaporean comedy film about the lives, struggles, and adventures of three Primary 6 pupils who are placed in the academically inferior EM3 stream. Written and directed by Jack Neo, and produced by Mediacorp Raintree Pictures, the movie stars Xiang Yun, Richard Low, Selena Tan, Shawn Lee, Huang Po Ju and Joshua Ang.

Released in cinemas on 9 February 2002,[1] I Not Stupid earned over S$3.8 million, becoming the second-highest grossing Singaporean film. Its satirical criticism of the Singaporean education system and social attitudes in Singapore sparked public discussions and parliamentary debates that led to reforms in the education system. Its sequel, I Not Stupid Too, was released in 2006.


Terry Khoo, Liu Kok Pin and Ang Boon Hock were Primary 6 students and friends on the same EM3 class. Each had their daily life which ended with remarks from their parents- Kok Pin was often caned by his mother for neglecting his work, including his interest in drawing which his father admires; Boon Hock operates a hawker store with his widowed mother while juggling between study and work; Terry frequently embarrass himself for his actions and self-pride which his overprotective mother reprimanded him, telling him to be obedient. One day, Lee was the new teacher for the class.

Liu was a commercial producer working in a marketing company, Hao Peng You Bakkwa, helmed under an uncouth director Jerry, also Terry's father, along with American John and his friend Ben, who both recently promoted as Creative Group Head. Outside work, however, were conflicts between Liu and Jerry when the former steal a parking lot, and again in a gas station leading to a whole family pelting eggs, ending off with Khoo's mother bruised by Kok Pin.

At the same time, Terry and his elder sister Selena, visited the hawker centre where Ang was, and ended up messing two customers while trying to repay him, resulting in a scolding by his mother. One day, an EM1 student and Ang's cousin, Tiong Meng, criticizes him by comparing his score of 78 as a worst score in EM1, before spitting saliva onto Kok Pin while defending Ang. Tiong Heng's mother didn't witness and argued with Kok Pin causing her to fall. In the disciplinary room, Terry, as eyewitness, explained on Tiong Meng before ending with someone who would come along- his mother, who explains the bruising and come to defend Kok Pin, but she, noticing the same bruising, denied the claim. When the disciplinary mistress asked who started first, neither spoke up. Liu's mother separately spoke to the principal privately, but he dismisses her, telling that it was a school matter, not personal.

During the exams, Kok Pin was caught cheating and was disciplined by the school. Liu, before leaving, handed an artwork to Lee who was monitored by another teacher Lim to ensure she contact his parents. Liu attempted suicide after seeing a news bulletin about an 11-year-old boy committing suicide because he could not endure the punishment he had from his parents due to his poor grades, but was stopped by a group of running members who were arrested by the police, one of which was Selena. When Selena was also brought to the police, she revealed she ran off because of her lack of free will. The next day, she bought a pair of sneakers as apology and appreciation.

When Liu's parents returned home following the case, his mother suddenly collapses. A determined Kok Pin began his resolve by studying hard and was praised by his father, and later some policemen for identifying the two strangers whose responsible for kidnapping his friends one day at school while tempting them with pirated video games, one of which was a former employer working with Jerry and was fired for a work accident. Terry was kidnapped along with Ang who also rushes in to the vehicle to save Terry; before making their escape, Ang convinces Terry not to trust on some strangers of bad nature and the different obedience compared to the parents, which a reluctant Terry agrees.

After the arrest, Liu and Ben was impressed on the bakkwa proposal by the director and claimed the idea was from John's amendment, angering him for copyright. Ben shortly challenged John for the post of Creative director, which he accepts; creating an advertorial for a shampoo in a few weeks. John's proposal won, resulting in Ben and Liu's resigning from their job.

Later, Liu's mother was revealed to have been diagnosed with leukemia, which has a low survival rate unless a suitable bone marrow donor is found. Kok Pin was brought to the disclipinary mistress again for attacking Terry on his offending remark on his mother so that he won't be able to face a burden of doing homework, but she left the decision to Lee after learning about leukemia and Terry; separately, Jerry visited Liu to tell him about the fight, resulting in himself scolding Kok Pin as well.

Few days before exams, each parent visited a nearby temple to seek blessing; four days later, Kok Pin barely passed the exam and later visited the hospital to see his mother, emotionally saying that she was proud of his effort, before Liu entered. Lee was the next to visit to inform on Kok Pin and told that his art work won runner-up in an international art contest.

She sent text advertisements to public, and many visited the hospital, among which Jerry was the suitable donor. However, Jerry abruptly leaves the site when he saw Liu, but after hearing their pleas to stay, he later accepts under frustration. During the operation, he abruptly confirms that his identification number actually belong to Terry, who he mistakenly took a blood test the same day to test his suitability as a donor; despite being underage to donate, he volunteered because he regret that his parent's action would not have make him obedient.

The operation was successful and Liu's mother was saved; Terry and Kok Pin resolved their differences, so were Liu and Jerry, the former praising his brand and willing to recruit himself for the advertising, which he accepts. The advertising was a success, and his business prosper as a result.

At the epilogue during the house visit, Terry knocked a nearby buffet following a chase with two children who steal his food, similar to the one happening earlier in the film. At evening, the trio commented the actions were "for their own good", before breaking the fourth wall to inform the film's ending.

Political satire[edit]

I Not Stupid criticises many aspects of modern Singaporean culture, including streaming in the education system, deference to authority, and sociocultural stereotypes. The film can be read as an allegory for Singaporean society – the pampered protagonist and narrator, Terry, is an "everyman;"[2] deferent and coddled, with a domineering mother and affluent father.[3] Terry's intellectual failings lead him to be placed in the inferior EM3 stream, which becomes the driving force behind the storyline. The subsequent stigma placed upon the narrator illustrates how the Singaporean education system promotes academic elitism, with students in lower streams looked down upon as inferior, making it harder for them to catch up and realise their potential (see golem effect), even if they are not necessarily stupid.[3][4][5] This kiasu mentality puts mounting pressure upon the protagonists of the film, confounding them as they attempt to improve their standing and ameliorate their reputation in a society which judges them "worthless".[2]

Terry's mother, Mrs. Khoo, is a "thinly veiled stand-in for the [Singapore] government", whose "mother-knows-best" mentality is well-meaning, but strips her children of their freedom.[3] She demands total obedience, and her repeated lines "Do you know how lucky you are to have a good and responsible mother?" and "This is all for your own good" parody the Singapore government's efforts to convince Singaporeans that government policies and actions is in the best interests of the nation.[1][3][5][6] Mrs. Khoo also uses her position of power to buy off rebellion in her charges with gifts and bribes, in a pointed criticism of the government's social policies.[3][6] Other characters in the film comment on this relationship – for instance, in one scene, Mr. Liu states that "it is difficult to catch fish in Singapore, because fish in Singapore are like Singaporeans; they'll never open their mouths", poking fun at the Singaporean trait of obedience and respect for authority.[5]

According to director Neo, he rewrote the script for one scene, the scene where Tiong Heng spitting onto Kok Pin and Terry failing to brought eyewitness, then Mrs. Khoo demands the school to punish Kok Pin in addition on taking the blame on bruising Tiong Heng's mother for that. He rewrote the script to allow Terry and Khoo to brought to their defence to Kok Pin, and both him and Tiong Heng were warned by the school. Neo told that the change of the script was an example of prisoner's dilemma and to allow a divide between EM1 and EM3 students. The original version is found on the director's cut. Additionally, Neo initially considered Zoe Tay for the role for the mother of Kok Pin, but he ultimately went for veteran actress Xiang Yun because Xiang's age was more suitable than Tay, although Tay would be reconsidered again in the sequel, but it did not happen.[5]

The film also touches on other issues including Chinese self-loathing (wherein Singaporean companies regard Western expatriates as inherently superior to local workers), suicide, the use of Singlish, and the differences between English and Chinese.[2][5][6]


Jack Neo's inspiration for the film was the Iranian movie Children of Heaven. Neo and his wife were moved to "holding hands and crying after seeing the love shared by the children", which motivated him to make his own movie about youth. After speaking with parents to find topics to discuss in his film, Neo learned that due to problems with the Singaporean education system, specifically streaming, students face considerable academic and emotional stress.[7][8] This problem formed the core of his film, which he called I Not Stupid in reference to the social stigma that streaming places on students.[3]

Neo also drew on a dissatisfaction he felt with the way the school system promoted deference to authority over self-reliance; he wanted his film to tell youth "If you don't want to change or make a difference, you won't. It's all up to you."[7] In exploring these ideas, Neo spent over two years researching and editing the script — checking scenes for accuracy, verifying facts, and drafting dialogue.[8] Altogether, the work went through thirteen different revisions, and saw over 50 children audition for the lead roles,[9] before Neo decided to send I Not Stupid into production.[8]

This production was carried out by Raintree Pictures on a budget of S$900,000,[1] sponsored by Bee Cheng Hiang, Yeo Hiap Seng and Sunshine Bakeries.[10] The production crew included Daniel Yun as executive producer, David Leong and Chan Pui Yin as producers, Ardy Lam as cinematographer and Li Yi as music supervisor.[11] In addition to writing and directing, Neo also composed the theme song, which was sung by Chen Guorong. The actual filming took place at Braddell Westlake Secondary School and Westlake Primary School over a period of 24 days,[12] and the film found distribution through Raintree Pictures and United International Pictures.[13]


I Not Stupid earned just S$46,000 during a limited sneak preview run, prompting Raintree Pictures to embark on a massive publicity campaign, including invitations for teachers to discuss the film. After showing for four months on 30 screens the movie earned S$3.8 million,[1] becoming the second-highest grossing Singaporean movie after Money No Enough.[3] Following its success in Singapore, I Not Stupid was released in Malaysia, Hong Kong,[1] Taiwan and mainland China. The movie also screened at the Pusan International Film Festival,[1] Tokyo International Film Festival,[14] the Jakarta International Film Festival and the 2005 Singapore Season cultural exhibition in London.[15] Over 50,000 VCDs of I Not Stupid were sold and its sole distributor, VideoVan, declared it the "No. 1 selling VCD in Singapore". This claim was disputed by Alliance Entertainment, which said that 70,000 VCDs of Money No Enough were sold, but VideoVan called the comparison inaccurate, as Money No Enough was a mature title, rather than a new release.[16]

Awards that I Not Stupid won include Best Chinese Film at the Golden Bauhinia Awards and Best Chinese Humanitarian Film at the 2002 Taiwan Golden Torch Awards;[6] the movie was also nominated for Best Asian Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards, losing to My Sassy Girl.[17] Critics praised the film for its humour and uniqueness, noting that it touched a raw nerve among Singaporeans. For example, Sanjuro of wrote, "I Not Stupid covers a variety of serious subjects, but all the while maintains a light comedic touch. Jack Neo [makes this film] a clever, well-crafted social commentary and a damn good film to boot."[3] Other reviewers described I Not Stupid as "one of the greatest cinematic feats I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing"[4] and displaying a "simple and yet excellent execution".[5] In contrast, FilmAsia reviewer Soh Yun-Huei, found it "most shocking...that the Singapore censors actually allowed this film through in the first place".[10]

Despite its political satire, the film received a positive response from the government of Singapore. Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister of Singapore, commended Jack Neo's creative talent during his National Day Rally address on 18 August 2002.[18] In 2004, Neo was the first local film-maker to receive a National Day Award,[19] and on 21 October 2005, he and Dick Lee became the first pop culture artists to receive the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's highest arts award.[20] The movie sparked public discussion and parliamentary debate about the negative effects of streaming. In 2004, the Ministry of Education decided to merge the EM1 and EM2 streams, and on 28 September 2006, it announced that the EM3 stream will be scrapped by 2008.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ciecko, Anne Tereska; Uhde, Jan and Uhde, Yvnone Ng (2006). Contemporary Asian Cinema. New York: Berg. pp. "Singapore: Developments, Challenges and Projections", pp. 81–82. ISBN 1-84520-237-6.
  2. ^ a b c "I Not Stupid but is clever, really", New Straits Times, 19 September 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "I Not Stupid – Review",
  4. ^ a b Daniel Nguyen, "I Not Stupid – Review Archived 2006-11-01 at the Wayback Machine", KFC Cinema.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Funn Lim (2005), "I Not Stupid – Review", Spcnet TV.
  6. ^ a b c d Kenneth Paul Tan (2008), "Cinema and Television in Singapore", Brill Publishers, pg 164–168.
  7. ^ a b Karl Ho, "Jack as court jester", The Straits Times, 31 January 2002
  8. ^ a b c Hwa, Dr. Tan Hooi; Krysania Tan, Regina Chan (April 2002). Interview with Mr Jack Neo and Dr Winston Hwang from the cast of Local Production "I Not Stupid", SMA News. pp. 5–10. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
  9. ^ "THE CASTS Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine". Raintree Pictures Pte Ltd. 2002. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
  10. ^ a b Soh Yun-Huei, "I Not Stupid – Review", FilmAsia.
  11. ^ ""I Not Stupid" – Production notes Archived 2006-11-04 at the Wayback Machine", MediaCorp Raintree Pictures. 2002.
  12. ^ Wong Kim Hoh, "Who says I’m only good at drag?", The Straits Times, 20 June 2004
  13. ^ "UNITED INTERNATIONAL PICTURES, MEDIACORP RAINTREE PICTURES AND SCORPIO EAST PICTURES RELEASE "I NOT STUPID TOO" Archived 2006-12-23 at the Wayback Machine". MediaCorp Raintree Pictures Pte Ltd. 2005. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
  14. ^ "Lineup", Tokyo International Film Festival official website.
  15. ^ "Britons get a taste of Singapore culture in I Not Stupid show", Channel NewsAsia, 6 April 2005.
  16. ^ Camilla Chiam, "Two Jack Neo movies slug it out", The Straits Times, 12 June 2002.
  17. ^ "List of Award Winner", Hong Kong Film Awards official website.
  18. ^ Goh Chok Tong (18 August 2002), "National Day Rally Address Archived 2006-09-27 at the Wayback Machine", National Day Rally Address.
  19. ^ "Jack Neo honoured with National Day awards". Channel NewsAsia. 9 August 2004.
  20. ^ "Dick Lee, Jack Neo among this year's Cultural Medallion recipients", Channel NewsAsia, 21 October 2005.
  21. ^ "No streaming, no stigma", TODAY, 29 September 2006.

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