ILO ILO – Feb. 3, 2016 First Wed. movie

MRHS Film Committee Presents First Wednesday Films
Next screening on February 3 at 7:30 PM
Featuring: ILO ILO (2013), 1 hr 39 minutes

A bond develops between a Singapore boy and his Filipino nanny. Compassionate and rich in detail, it received a standing ovation and the Camera d’Or award for the best first feature film at the Cannes Film Festival. In Chinese, English and Tagalog, with English subtitles.

Camera d’Or jury president and eminent filmmaker Agnes Varda said in her address pronouncing ILO ILO as the winner of the Camera d’Or: “We were touched by… the story of a family in Singapore. The director’s intelligence and sensitivity bring forth very important issues – childhood, immigration, class struggles, the economic crisis. We were unanimous in our first round, and have chosen to award the Camera d’Or to Anthony Chen for ILO ILO.”


Ilo Ilo received a 100% positive rating from all 35 critic reviews in :

Young actor Koh Jia Ler’s brave performance recalls “The 400 Blows,” he’s that great. – Tim Campbell, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Not all magically benevolent nannies fly on talking umbrellas, as we learn in this beautifully formed little heart-tugger. – Guy Lodge , Empire Magazine

This quiet little domestic drama from Singapore reminds us films can achieve near-impossible heights and depths of intimacy and empathy. – Burl Burlingame, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

A smart, engaging, universal drama. – Siobhan Synnot, Scotsman

The film sketches a genuinely moving portrait of Keng Teck, a failed breadwinner with a wounded ego, whose good nature is revealed in tiny gestures of solidarity with Terry. – Maggie Lee, Variety

By the end of a movie that could have been a tear-jerker, you empathize with everybody equally. – Stephen Holden, New York Times

That Ilo Ilo is set 10 years before the global financial crisis gives it a small, sad, prophetic power. – Brian Miller , Seattle Weekly

Chen’s interest has a tighter domestic focus, gently probing the unspoken fault lines of class, race and age that run through modern, multicultural Singapore. – Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter


The acting is terrific, as is the attention to detail. – Bill Goodykoontz , Arizona Republic

A satisfying beam of compassion. – Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

Characters who may seem hopeless begin to suggest a vulnerable side, and none truly deserve the situations that afflict them. – John Hartl, Seattle Times

A subtle, touching tale..It never quite goes where you expect it to, choosing nuance over broad strokes and smaller moments over splashy effects – Marshall Fine , Hollywood & Fine

Breathtaking intimacy in storytelling – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Thankfully never sentimental, and wisely resisting an easy, happy ending, Ilo Ilo is a surprisingly satisfying import. – Matt Prigge, Metro

The crowded compositions convey a sense of life in the dense Asian city-state, but also the intimacy of this semi-autobiographical story.- Mark Jenkins, Washington Post

Filled with sweetness, humour and humanity: so assured and accomplished that it’s hard to believe this is a first feature. – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian [UK]

This sympathetic and engaging drama is deceptively gentle in its insight – compassionate yet unsentimental. – Mark Kermode, Observer [UK]

With evocative performances, especially from the two women, and a nicely modulated sense of nostalgia, “Ilo Ilo” marks the emergence of a promising new cinematic voice. – Marc Mohan, Oregonian

Chen builds his case not with sentimentality and obvious plot points, but through everyday life – showering, doing laundry, dropping the boy off at school, phone calls. – G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle

Anthony Chen puts modern Singaporese cinema on the map with this beautifully observed and gently comic family drama. – Oliver Lyttelton

A film that is both a vivid portrait of recession-struck Singapore in 1997 and a subdued, bittersweet affair that retains a natural feel. – Josh Slater-Williams, The Skinny

A delicate comedy-drama that contains four nicely realized and empathetic characters. – Tim Grierson

Perceptive and tightly built and anchored by such fully human characters. – Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

A lovely, intimate drama of family dynamics under stress, offering an intriguing peek into previously unseen Singaporean middle-class life. – MaryAnn Johanson, Flick Filosopher


A low-key gentle observant family drama that resonates emotionally with intimacy. – Dennis Schwartz

Low on feel-good pizzazz but absolutely brimming with love and respect. – Charlotte O’Sullivan

Deeper than it looks. – Marty Mapes

A gem. – James Mottram

FULL REVIEW – Hard Times Take Their Toll on a Singapore Family: A Family in Crisis in ‘Ilo Ilo,’, by Stephen Holden,, April 3, 2014

“Ilo Ilo,” Anthony Chen’s small, wonderful first feature film, is an acutely perceptive examination of middle-class life in Singapore during a 1997 financial crisis that sent tremors of panic through Asia’s developing countries. Its semi-autobiographical story focuses on a family of three, with a baby on the way, suddenly facing uncertainty.

The mild-mannered Teck (Chen Tianwen), who works in sales, and his pregnant wife, Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), a secretary, toil long, stressful hours in their drive toward upward mobility. A thorn in their side is their neglected 10-year-old son, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), a troublemaker at his elementary school, where officials – driven to their wits’ end by his behavior – summon Hwee Leng from her workplace when he misbehaves. When Jiale punches another boy, he is threatened with expulsion.


In her severity, Hwee Leng might be described as a tiger mother. She yells at Jiale, who responds to her tirades with a blank stare. She imperiously bosses around her husband, who is too ashamed to tell her when he is laid off from his job selling shatter-resistant glass. On top of that, he has secretly lost a bundle gambling on the stock market, and his belated confession of recklessness briefly drives her out of the house.

Teck is a passive-aggressive, grown-up version of his son. He defies Hwee Leng by smoking cigarettes in the hallway outside their apartment. At a family birthday party, where she allows him one drink, he gets drunk and is found collapsed in a bathroom. A minor crisis erupts when a cigarette that Jiale tried smoking is found in a toilet, and Teck is scolded.

The bad economic news breaks just as Hwee Leng hires Teresa (Angeli Bayani), a 28-year-old Filipino with a child back in the Philippines, as a housekeeper. One of her duties is to watch over Jiale, who refuses to obey her. In one incident, the boy flees on his bike and breaks his arm when he is struck by a car.

Hwee Leng, the hardest character to like, is suspicious and demanding; she talks down to Teresa, issues curt orders and never expresses even a hint of gratitude. She may behave monstrously, but you come to understand why and to grudgingly admire her tenacity. You also notice that her bark is much worse than her bite, and that behind her severity is a reservoir of love.

“Ilo Ilo” increasingly focuses on the relationship of Jiale and Teresa, who is as financially insecure as her employers and supplements what she makes as a housekeeper with a hairdressing sideline. Teresa is so servile that she never loses her temper with either Hwee Leng or Jiale, no matter how provoked. As a bond slowly develops between Teresa and the boy, he begins to express his affection in small, subtle ways, and Hwee Leng becomes resentful. “Ilo Ilo” could have sentimentalized this relationship, but it doesn’t. And by the end of a movie that could have been a tear-jerker, you empathize with everybody equally.

The economic woes that weighed heavily 17 years ago in Singapore aren’t all that different from American workplace anxiety during and after the 2007-8 financial crisis. Fueling the family members’ tension is the unvoiced fear that just one slip on the ladder could cost them everything. They are a mirror of society, clutching at a dream that may suddenly be out of reach.

This remarkably terse movie doesn’t waste a word or an image. It refuses to linger over each little crisis its characters endure. And its detachment lends a perspective that widens the film’s vision of people reacting to events beyond their control. This family and Singapore belong to a complex, tightly knit social organism in which, consciously or not, every part is sensitive to every other.



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