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|Index||23 reviews in total|
This film "Ilo Ilo" put Singapore on the map of world cinema when it
won the Camera D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Finally, it
is now being shown here in the country where the titular place name
We do not even hear the word "Ilo Ilo" mentioned during the film's 99- minute running time, though we do hear the maid Terry speak in the Ilonggo dialect of Iloilo province when she makes a long-distance phone call back home. I doubt if non-Filipinos will recognize that little linguistic detail, so they might wonder about the English title. The Mandarin title of this film is actually "Father, Mother Not At Home." This was exactly what the movie was all about.
We meet a middle-class Singaporean family, the Lims, feeling the crunch of the Asian Economic Crisis during the late 1990s. The father has lost his job in sales and has to make do by accepting a more menial job. The mother is pregnant with their second child, and has a thankless clerical job, typing letters for employees about to lose their jobs. The son Jiale is a naughty little rascal who is obsessed with the lottery, his Tamagotchi and getting himself sent to the Principal's office.
To help with the household chores and to take care of Jiale, the couple decide to hire a maid from the Philippines, Teresa. It was a huge challenge for Terry to get integrated into the family system and into Jiale's troubled life, but she eventually does. But as the Lims continued to experience escalating monetary woes, they need to make an important decision about Terry.
This is actually a simple story of a family going through rough financial times and their relationship with their helper. We usually see this type of story from the point of view of the helper, but this time we see the employer's perspective. The actors who play Lim family are very real in their roles. Tian Wen Chen essays the down-on-his-luck father role with just the right amount of humor. Yeo Yan Yan portrays the frustrations of her character with her life, her husband AND her son very well. Her inner conflicts when she sees Jiale bonding with his Auntie Terry were eloquently reflected on her face. The child actor who plays Jiale is quite the natural in his portrayal. It was surprising to find out later that this was his first ever film role, maybe that is why it was bereft of artificiality.
As for Terry, we don't really know who she was before she came here. She has several skills like cutting hair or driving, but what exactly did she do for a living before going to Singapore? We will also not know what will happen to her after her last scene. Teresa was not really the main character here but she was the important catalyst for the family's story to be more interesting. Filipina actress Angeli Bayani hits the right notes in this role, perfectly mixing her character's timidity and subservience with loyalty and dignity.
Director Anthony Chen toned down everything in his treatment of this story, the script of which he himself wrote based from his own memories about his childhood and his Filipina yaya (or baby sitter). The colors were muted to a pale sepia. There were no scenes of exaggerated melodrama, no over-the-top shouting nor crying, which makes the emotions so authentic. The actors were all subdued in their acting, which makes the performances so realistic. You can feel that the intentions of the film were only modest, but the sincerity is very palpable, and that is what makes the film connect so well with its audiences. 9/10.
Ilo Ilo tells a deceptively simple story with a lot of care and
heart.The film is roughly set in the middle of the Asian financial
crisis which also affected this small island nation.It tells of a
friendship which grows between a young and rebellious boy who has just
lost his beloved grandfather and his maid who arrives from Philippines
to help his pregnant mother with her hectic schedule. The boys father
loses his job and his mother juggles the tantrums of the brat and the
increasing demands of her job which she needs to retain at all cost.
Ilo Ilo demonstrates that the role of a nanny and domestic servant is very special.The tightrope that both employer and employee walk in balancing "you are a paid servant" and " you are a part of the family" can be so tight and the casualties so subtle that we don't notice the injuries until much later.In a dramatic scene, the school bully teases Jialer that his maid does not actually love him, she is just doing a job for which she is paid.This infuriates Jailer who lunges at the bully in a fit of rage. The director says the film was based on his personal experiences and how he felt that its very cruel for parents to allow maids to become like surrogate mothers and suddenly sack the maid for some reason.This can be a huge emotional trauma for the child who is unable to appreciate the reasons.While the film does not indict the system of foreign domestic helpers, it frames its argument for considering the human cost involved in a gentle way.
The character of Teresa reminds us that those of us who were raised by nannies owe so much to them, and we often never acknowledge the debt fully.I completely admired the performance by Yan Yan Yeo who played Jailan's mother as the slightly humorless but ultimately kind woman.She navigates the role with the responsibility that the character must have felt, with her world crumbling around her in trying circumstances. Her performance is pitch perfect and I was amazed to know that her character was not conceived as being pregnant but after she was cast she became pregnant.She managed to convince the director to rewrite the role.Angela Bayani as the diminutive maid Teresa also delivers a stellar performance in a role that requires her to be vulnerable, strong, emotional, stoic and pragmatic at different points.Her chemistry with Jialer played by a very natural Koh Jia Ler is excellent and completely believable.
The beauty of this film emerges when we juxtapose its sombre sepia images with the glitz and glamour of present day Singapore.Needless to say the intimate and de-glamorized cinematography by French lensman Benoit Soler plays a big role in creating this magic.The humour is one of the strengths of the film and although I may not have understood all the jokes about growing up in Singapore, going by the reaction of the audience Mr Chen has been successful in his efforts.Yes I did go in with very high expectations and the film did not meet all of them but that should not take anything away from this sweet and intimate film.The quality of the craft is impeccable and there are no rough edges in the film which is remarkable for a debutant director.
I recently saw another period Singapore film That Girl in Pinafore, which although not as elegant as Ilo Ilo tells an equally touching and boisterous tale of a group of teens being typical teens against the backdrop in xinyao music.These are the only two Singaporean films I have seen so far, but we foreigners who live in Singapore need to discover Singaporean cinema, which offers a window into its unique culture.
Anthony Chen is the new poster boy of the fledgling film industry of Singapore after winning the Camera d'or at Cannes this year.This is his first full length feature after making eight highly acclaimed short films. Ilo Ilo is certainly a glittering debut film and hopefully the first in a long and interesting career.It may be Singapore's first Cannes winner but there must have been better films which have not garnered this kind of limelight.One hopes that Ilo Ilo is a watershed moment in Singapore cinema.
Sincere and heartfelt, this little gem will tug at your heartstrings.
This film is director Anthony Chen's debut , but it is executed with such finesse one cannot tell just by watching the film alone. A conscious lack of music allows the acting and characters to really shine--- the former never stilted or cheesy (a common problem in local Singaporean films) ; the latter very believable and connectable. From the retro kitchen tiles to the cassette tapes in Teck's old car, the movie paints a vivid picture of life in the 1990s, without explicitly stating it. The director gives the audience freedom to wander, infer and to truly feel, on their own--not just about time and setting, but also the relationships and nuanced emotions of the characters involved. The camera work also deserves praise as many shots are cleverly done and lighted.
The main story is simple, like a home cooked meal. But like a home cooked meal, it is precious and close to the heart.....I found myself laughing but also really close to tears at certain parts. Growing up in 1990s Singapore, many facets of the movie resonated very strongly with me. But at its core it is a universal human story of love and longing, of growing up and painful goodbyes. The movie will creep up on you, sweep you into it, and hit hard on the emotions.
Ilo Ilo did an excellent job of portraying the life of a middle-class
Singaporean family. Set during the 1997 financial crisis, it revolves
around one family's everyday struggles and their uneasy relationship
with their newly hired maid. With both parents busy working, naughty
10- year-old Jia Ler is left to the maid's care. His antics get her
into trouble, but they gradually form a close bond. Pregnant with a
second child, the mother struggles to cope with the demands of work and
family. The father is retrenched and despite all his efforts, is unable
to find a job with comparable pay, forcing the family to cut back
Although there was no proper storyline, the movie was engaging throughout and zoomed in on the struggles that each character faced. Everything was so real. The problems people face haven't changed, even though this was some 15 years ago. Singapore is known globally as a prosperous and affluent city, but few foreigners (even those living in our midst) know what life is like for the average Singaporean family. This movie is the perfect introduction.
'Ilo Ilo's' Camera d'Or win made history by being the highest ever
honour that any Singapore film has won; but further history might be in
the making. Indeed, last year's movie - Benh Zeitlin's 'Beasts of the
Southern Wild' - went on to be nominated four times at the Academy
Awards, and Anthony Chen's debut feature-length film may very well
score Singapore's first nomination in the extremely competitive Foreign
Language Film category.
You might certainly be right in thinking that we may be getting ahead of ourselves if we haven't yet seen the movie, but it is after having enjoyed every rapt minute of it that we are saying with great confidence we have not overstated the potential of this little delicate gem nor the creative force behind it, Chen. Indeed, never will you guess from watching the movie that this is only his first full-length movie, because in 'Ilo Ilo', Chen navigates plot, character and relationship with the deftness of a pro honed from years of experience, crafting an intimate yet broad, bittersweet yet heart-warming portrait of a working- class family caught in the throes of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Working off his own screenplay, Chen displays an acute sense of self-awareness and confidence in his own scripting and directing abilities. Whereas lesser directors would have relied on mawkish sentimentality, Chen banks on good old-fashioned character- driven storytelling to draw in his audience. Each scene is carefully written and constructed to establish the relationship between four richly realised characters, with meticulous attention paid to their evolving dynamics as the film progresses.
Yes, ever so gently and effortlessly, Chen hooks you in to empathise with the plight of the Lim family and their Filipino maid from the titular province, which - thanks to the universality of the familial themes - transcends age, generation and even cultures. Certainly, Mr and Mrs Lim (veteran TV actor Chen Tianwen and Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann) wouldn't be the first to grapple with an increasingly misbehaved young kid (newcomer Koh Jia Ler), nor - at least in the Singapore context - to hire a maid to take care of their child because both have to work to support the family.
Enter the timid Filipino domestic worker Terry (Angeli Bayani), whom Jiale treats with utter contempt at the start. From purposely sabotaging her at the bookshop to slipping away from the side gate while she waits anxiously to pick him up from school after dismissal, Terry's new job taking care of the wilful Jiale proves to be a baptism of fire, especially as she frets over her infant son whom she had left in the care of her sister back home. While setting up the central relationship between Terry and Jiale, Chen occasionally interweaves the largely parallel circumstances of the remaining two characters - while Mrs Lim gets no joy at work watching her fellow employees get the axe and feeling partly responsible for being the one typing out their termination letters, Mr Lim is in an even worse position, having lost his job and forced to accept a temporary position as a security guard at a warehouse.
What is truly impressive is how Chen develops the story through evolving the dynamics between and among the various characters. A freak accident turns out to be Jiale's wake-up call, marking a turning point in how he treats Terry. But it also causes Mrs Lim to be quietly resentful of Terry, exacerbated by the small incidents like Jiale's preference for "Auntie Terry's" fish porridge over hers. Her jealousy not only makes her more wary of Terry - whom she suspects of smoking and even taking her money - but also aggravates her peckish behaviour over her husband.
Chen's grasp of detail is masterful, every little event ratcheting the tension between mother and maid as well as husband and wife before building to an inevitable conclusion handled with bittersweet restraint. Ditto for his control over the film's tone, which he carefully calibrates to keep things realistic from start to finish, lacing the drama with an undertone of real-life humour. And for those who have been following his short films, this is undoubtedly his paciest film to date, avoiding the long takes and arty pretences to focus on the story and characters.
That he chooses to do so is also testament to the exceptional performances of his cast. In his first big-screen role, Tianwen portrays with nuance and empathy as the hen-pecked husband afraid to tell his wife the truth about his unemployment for fear of losing her respect. Yann Yann is just as solid as his complement, utterly convincing with Tianwen as a couple whose marriage is now defined by the everyday practical concerns of money and children.
Deserving of special and joint mention are Bayani and Jia Ler, who share great chemistry with each other whether as antagonists at the beginning or as each other's guardians later on. It's no secret why Chen had selected Jia Ler out of more than hundreds of hopefuls for the role - the now 13-year-old is a fascinating natural in front of the camera, holding his own amongst the seasoned vets as the feisty kid with an unexpectedly sweet centre. Of course, the credit also belongs to Chen, who reportedly spent take after take coaxing the best out of Jia Ler.
But all that effort has clearly paid off - not only is the acting some of the best we have ever seen in local film, the scripting and directing is among the most accomplished as well. This isn't the sort of mass- appeal movie that Jack Neo makes, nor is it the arty-farty type that speaks only to an acquired taste; rather, Chen has made a perfectly accessible drama that captures an immediately identifiable slice of Singapore life, absolutely fascinating in its authenticity, poignancy and honest-to-god warmth.
This movie captures the atmosphere of the end of the 90's in Singapore,
when an economic tsunami devastated much of Asia, through the memories
of a 10-year old.
When Antony Chen was looking for a subject for his first feature film, he recorded an event of his childhood that he had since nearly erased from this memory: how he was heartbroken when the Filipino maid who was living with his family had to leave, following his mother's decision to stay at home to tend to the family. From there, vignettes of the past came back to him, that he sought to transcribe them in the movie in the most authentic manner possible.
Antony Chen pushed that search for authenticity pretty far, as to find Ko Jia Le (the boy playing the central part), he trawled schools seeing some 2000 boys, interviewing hundreds, and inviting a hundred of them to do workshops. The result was not to take the cutest or the best-looking - something the director wanted to avoid - in fact you often feel ill at ease watching him, playing obsessively with him Tamagochi (remember those?) or making a nuisance of himself in all sorts of ways. You love him and you hate him, was the director's comment, and shooting the movie appears never to have been easy. "There were two children on the set, one in front of the camera, one behind", reminisced Chen. The embarrassment you feel watching him is a compounded by that caused by the tensions between the characters, sometimes so painful and so real that you wonder what you are doing there watching them.
The period of the film is, in 2013, highly unusual: nobody to my knowledge has yet set an entire film in the 1990's. But none of the usual tricks to show the audience the period: no camera lingering on a period calendar, no newsreels announcing events identifiable with the period. Part of the time you forget about it, and get reminded by an audio cassette or an electronic typewriter.
The movie is upheld by a brilliant cast of very eclectic actors. Chen Tian Wen (the father) comes from Singapore TV soap operas, Angeli Bayani is Filipino and worked in the Philippines in theater and in movies. The fact that the mother (Yann Yann Yeo), was really 6-month pregnant during the shooting, adds humanity to a character who would otherwise appear excessively domineering. The art director is French, met by Chen in the London school of cinema. Chen expressed how he had fears that being a westerner he would show a romantic view of Singapore, something like Woody Allen in Paris, which would have gone against his search for authenticity. The shooting does avoid any romanticism but remains highly interesting, occasionally tripping into a dreamlike quality at odds with the rest of the movie.
In short, this is a movie like none other.
As it turned out, this is Anthony's labour of love, and the tremendous
attention to detail was simply amazing, though not perfect (but what
is?), with its art direction to immerse the viewer into knowing we're
in the mid 90s without the need for an obvious marker until mid way.
Electronic devices such as the Tamagochi game which was quite the rage
in its time, ubiquitous pagers, and Sony's walkman all serve to remind
us of a time where we got by without feeling the need to be online all
the time. And from these little gadgets, come the darting of one's eyes
to a lot more clues of time, from costuming right down to wide angled
shots where I just had to find something out of place, but rarely did
(I admit I nodded when a wide shot of a school hall had the correct
President and First Lady picture hung up, something which could have
been easily overlooked, amongst other things such as the model used for
a police car).
But it is economical filmmaking in a sense, yet big in ambition to tell a story that can, and has proved, to resonate with audiences around the world. Most of the scenes take place in family HDB apartment, or the school, and any other outdoor shots were meticulously scouted and could have made the Old Places team proud, especially when we're modernizing our landscapes at a frightening pace. And the cinematography exploits tight spaces in lieu of avoiding getting something out of place into the frame, yet through its technical constraints came an intimate portrait through tight shots and intricate framing.
What I really liked about the film is how effortlessly the narrative flowed, without the director feeling the urge to be verbose about everything, preferring set ups to be resolved naturally at a later stage, with the film taking its time to evolve rather than pushing its pace to a rush, reining in any attempt to be overly ambitious in trying to cover everything, catalyzed from the introduction of a stranger into a family's life. And on top of that, giving each character crafted their strong, personal story arcs whose challenges one can surely feel for since they touch raw nerves from an unforgettable 90s era.
The Singapore Dreaming connection cannot be stronger than with Yeo Yann Yann's presence playing a pregnant mom in a family drama. One of the actresses at the top of her craft plying her trade on both sides of the Causeway, it is needless to say her sheer acting prowess shone through a role that required her to respond to threats, where her character had to witness the erosion of her bond with her son who slowly but surely begin to forge a stronger one with their family maid. And if that's not challenging the actress enough, her role also deals with the albatross of retrenchment starkly happening in the local small and medium enterprise her motherly character works for, and finding belief through self-help materials.
I've never thought much about Chen Tianwen as an actor since his television days, but it's a testament to the director's ability to elicit the best performance possible from his cast, and it's indeed a revelation that this actor could act, if given the right role, and having his ability coaxed right out of him. While the character had to disappear for a bit toward the last act, his Mr Lim stood for how the typical father would under dire circumstances, speaking little, and digging deep from within to weather the storm, picking up any job to tide through tough times. If you, like me before who is unconvinced by Chen Tianwen's acting abilities, you're in for a huge and pleasant surprise.
Fans of Lav Diaz's films would be no stranger to Angeli Bayani, who plays Teresa/Terry the maid, and nailed her role through and through as the dutiful servant with a mind of her own, standing up for herself from the onset when bullied. Leaving her family and young son behind, the character echoes many of those under similar circumstances, having to come to our island to look after someone else's kid instead, while at the same time bearing witness to the secrets each household owns. And rounding up the principle cast members is Koh Jia Ler as the young kid of the Lim family Jiale, a rascal of a kid, spoilt in a sense, and being the bane of Teresa at the start. Ilo Ilo has their story arcs central to everything else happening around them, and the chemistry between these two performers was one of the highlights of the movie, as we journey through their changes in attitudes that gave way to mutual respect, and love. Probably the child actor at the moment, having to co-shoulder the weight of the film on his shoulders as the unlikely antagonist who jump starts situations.
Anthony Chen has thrown the gauntlet down for local filmmakers to raise their own bars in filmmaking, leading the charge of the next generation of filmmakers who have their unique vision and stories to tell. It's rare in our filmmaking community to find storytellers who straddle between art house and commercial films, but Ilo Ilo shows that a combination of both is possible. So while the film continues to make waves overseas, and prestigious, international awards aside, there's nothing but true testament for any filmmaker, than for audiences in the home country to respond to the film in a show of support through a ticket. And it's not blind promotion - Ilo Ilo is the best local film to hit our shores this year, and perhaps in recent years, that it deserves as wide an audience as it can get from Singapore. You'll laugh, cry and will invariably be moved. A definite recommend!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is a film which has gone down a path no other Singapore film has
gone down before, by winning an award at the prestigious Cannes Film
Festival. It is an achievement of the highest order when the Prime
Minister of Singapore had publicly commented on the win at Cannes. It
is just a story of an ordinary Singaporean family and their Pilipino
domestic helper in the midst of Singapore being hit by the 1997 Asian
financial crisis, but it is the film which has make big in its own way.
Jia Le has always manage to find himself in trouble at school, leading to his pregnant mother Swee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) needing to go to school to pick up the pieces for him. There is also the stoic head of the household Teck (Chen Tian Wen) who is a salesman but would find himself out of a job as the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit Singapore. He would try to become a trader, but would lose heavily on the stock market.
But before the Lims' financial problems reared its ugly head, the family would hire a domestic helper from the Philippines, Teresa (Angeli Bayani) to help out with the household chores. Aunty Terry as she would like to be known, would come to find her hands full with her employers' son. As the unlikely bond between Terry and Jia Le develop in the subtle of ways, both Teck and Swee Leng find that they also have to deal with the effects of the financial crisis in their own ways.
For any Singaporean who had lived through the 90s, one cannot help but notice the imagery from the era. The computers which was used at where Swee Leng work, the rows of HDB flats (public housing for the international audience), the presidential portraits being hung at the school hall at where Jia Le went to school, and the Tamagotchi which Jia Le is always fond of playing. While images like these are obvious on the surface, there are also the subtle ones as anyone living through 90s Singapore will be able to resonate with. This film does not use special effects to tell its story across an audience; it is as truthful as it is of a portrayal of the Singapore society of the 90s where the domestic helper is being relegated to the background.
In this film, it is as much as the story of the Lim family and Terry's, who has come to Singapore in search of a better life. Bayani's role as Terry really does make one feel at times that it is actually not an actress playing the role of a domestic helper at all, but a real domestic helper. There is also Yann Yann as the pregnant mother Swee Leng who is caught between dealing with Terry and her own family members including her husband.
Anyone expecting something fanciful in the film will be disappointed, where it is a reminder that it can be as enjoyable and heart-warming with its occasional dash of humour without the special effects. As much as it is a very Singapore story with its Singapore setting, it is a story which is able to pull the heartstrings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Set in Singapore, during the 1997 financial crisis there, the film
tells the story of a family trying to cope with a myriad of mounting
problems. This is not exactly the feel-good movie of the year, but it's
a fine realistic drama, enhanced by strong acting from all the main
The mother of the family, Hwee Leng (Yann Yann Yeo) is in the latter stages of pregnancy and decides, along with her husband Teck (Tian Wan Chen) to hire a maid to help with the housework and to watch over their son Jailer (Jialer Keh). The maid, Terry, very ably portrayed by Angeli Bayani, has left her baby son in the care of her sister, in the Phillipines, to take this employment opportunity and earn much needed income.
However, Terry will face "tough sledding" from the start as she tries to deal with a controlling and sometimes mean Hwee Leng, as well as dealing with the emotionally troubled Jailer, who's seriously "acting out" both at home and in school.
As the film progresses, the family comes under more and more stress as Teck loses his salesman job, and has to take a temporary position as a security guard. Hwee Leng, who works for a shipping company, sees layoffs at her office nearly every day, and worries about her own security and the worsening behavior of her son.
Despite all of Jailer's antics, he begins to bond slowly with Terry, which causes jealousy from his mother. This will all spiral down into more and more drama, which I won't reveal too much here for fear of writing too many spoilers.
In summary, this is a fine feature debut for Anthony Chen, who wrote and directed the movie, and I'm glad he didn't go for the easy cop-out ending which I believe would have marred the film. I thought the film offered some good cinematic realism, which was not easy to watch at times, enhanced by strong natural acting, and I would say for those that like this kind of drama it is worth seeing.
Director Anthony Chen's brilliant debut feature film 'Ilo Ilo' is a
compelling drama about how a simple Singaporean middle-class family
gets affected by the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
'Ilo ilo' is a Mandarin phrase which means 'Mom and dad are not at home'. The setting itself was quite nostalgic, personally. A simple middle-class family, two hardworking parents, a naughty son, and how he gets attached to the new Filipino maid hired by the family. Everything goes normal until the financial crisis hits the community; people start losing their jobs, and we see its effects on the community through the lives of these four characters.
All the characters in the story are quite intriguing: The honest hardworking father, who after losing his sales job, tries to hide it from his family and applies for other jobs. The pregnant working mother, who's always irritated by her naughty son's antics at school, but feels jealous when she notices the close bond her son forms with the maid. The single child, Jiale, who's known for his naughtiness, but slowly mends his ways when he finds a friend in the new maid. The Filipino-immigrant maid, who has a baby of her own (back at her sister's house), but stays and works at this house, and also does hairdressing part-time, trying to make ends meet; she finds a son in Jiale, and starts caring about him immensely.
Even when situations get really bad, we as people often try to mask our pain and difficulties in front of our friends and relatives in order to appear fine and sorted; that's what seems sad in our communities. The urge and need to maintain our image takes precedence over anything else.
All the four leads are really talented actors, and have done a commendable job. The cinematography and the crisp colours make the story quite rich and real. The screenplay is simple and uncomplicated, yet immensely moving and absorbing. And the most beautiful aspect of the movie is that there is no background score at all. Instead, the silence lets us ponder over the real and moving situations unraveling in front of our eyes. The only song in the movie is played in the last scene, and it's a really beautiful Filipino song.
There are many beautifully shot and memorable scenes in the movie. By the time the movie ends, you unconsciously become a part of the family, and empathise with each of the four characters.
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