Ilo Ilo: Award-winning filmmaker Anthony Chen puts Singapore in the spotlight

If you’ve been following the buzz around our local cinema, you may have already heard – Camera D’or award winner Ilo Ilo will finally be opening in cinemas island-wide this week! Directed by Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo received a 15-minute standing ovation during its debut screening in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, before winning the prestigious Camera d’Or award – Singapore’s first. Slated to premiere in 20 countries including France, USA and Hong Kong, this is one film that you cannot miss.

Set in the Singapore of the late 1990s, Ilo Ilo follows Jia Le (Koh Jia Ler), a young boy who is brilliant at creating mischief and frustrating his pregnant mother Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) and her husband Teck (Chen Tian Wen). Clueless about her husband’s recent unemployment, Hwee Leng engages a Filipino helper Teresa (Angeli Bayani) into their household to much initial hostility from Jia Le. What ensues is an astute examination of each family member as they deal with their individual challenges.

Director Chen is subtle yet nuanced in his story-telling, using a straightforward narrative laced with weighted episodes. Attention is given in building quiet dramatic tension to powerful effect – I found myself awaiting mishaps that never happened in some scenes. The parents’ individual worries in the increasingly critical financial situation are masterfully weaved with the developing relationship between their son and domestic helper, developing their characters separately and as a family unit.

There are many elements in this film that resonate: the fear and insecurity during the financial crisis, the role of domestic helpers in nuclear families, the obsession with lottery and the magic four numbers. Yet in a marked departure, these local quirks are depicted just as how they are in our lives rather than used as blatant humour or cheap laughs. In doing so, they become more nostalgic than dismissive as grounded observations; elements relatable to our own memories.

This sincerity in treatment is seemingly the heart of Ilo Ilo. There are no overwhelming social commentaries or stereotypes although the reality of certain issues is undeniable. The significance of everyday moments is given the deserved level of respect, the characters fleshed out intuitively with shades of complexity. It’s as believable and unbelievable as our own lives, like the bittersweet taste of memory and dreams. Whether you are Singaporean or a foreigner, it’s easy to find yourself in each character as they go through life.

Do book your tickets to prevent disappointment this coming week. Better yet, get your family and friends both here and around the world to watch it when it premieres in their city!

Ilo Ilo opens in cinemas island-wide this Thursday, 29 August 2013. Follow them on their Facebook page here

Images reproduced with permission.



Xiangyun gravitates towards ideas, aesthetics, and the written word. She requires music, coffee, and wine to function, along with regular swimming and baking sessions. She is also unreasonably suspicious about linear time and conformity.

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