Ilo Ilo

2013

Drama

13
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 100%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 78%
IMDb Rating 7.3 10 3541

Synopsis


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1hr 39 min
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Chinese
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1hr 39 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by 3xHCCH 9 / 10

Sincerely Authentic

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 originates.

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.

Reviewed by ttys12 10 / 10

In love with Ilo Ilo

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.

Reviewed by moviexclusive 8 / 10

With authenticity, poignancy, warmth and sincerity, Anthony Chen's unprecedented Camera d'Or winning drama is a true-blue gem of Singapore cinema

'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.

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