Jack Neo, Singapore’s most successful film director, is to direct a two-part comedy drama that chronicles the city-state’s development since the end of the colonial period and its separation from Malaysia.

“Long Long Time Ago” will shoot in Malaysia from May next year, and see the first part released in November next year. The second part will release at Chinese New Year in early 2016.

A thinly disguised metaphor for the country’s modernization, the story will follow the life of a boy born with a congenital disease nearly 50 years ago at the time of Singapore’s independence and predicted to have no more than 12 years to live.

Neo has warned that he will be seeking a cast that can handle a wide range of dialects matching those more widely spoken between 1965-1980, before the film moves to the present day, where there would be a transition to Mandarin and English. 

The twin productions are budgeted at a combined S$6 million (US$4.5 million), making them Neo’s most expensive films to date. Finance and production is by Neo’s own J Team and mm2 Entertainment, the entertainment mini-conglomerate headed by Melvin Ang that is in the process of floating on the Singapore Stock Exchange. Distributors have not yet been set.

Neo is by far Singapore’s most consistent and successful film-maker. As a director he has made seven of the ten highest grossing local films in Singapore. He also produced one of the remaining three.

Multi-part films are also part of his stock-in-trade. He made Money No Enough with episodes separated by ten years in 1998 and 2008. In 2012 and 2013 he broke box office records with army comedy “Ah Boys To Men” parts 1 and 2.