Following the success of Ilo Ilo, which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2013, Anthony Chen has made a significant comeback with his sophomore feature Wet Season. Chen maintains his authorial signature through his sharp observation of domestic issues (fertility, ageism, adultery), while situating his story within Singapore’s broader sociopolitical climate (the Singapore-Malaysia dispute, the fading of the Chinese language, and the bureaucracy in the nation’s education system). Following his role in Ilo Ilo, the magnificent Yann Yann Yeo plays Ling, a sensitive educator trying to strike a balance between her IVF treatments and her filial duty to her paralysed father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin), who requires constant care. After she discovers that her husband Andrew (Christopher Lee) is cheating on her, she becomes trapped in an intractable relationship with her student Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler).
Chen’s minimalist film develops its tension through a well-structured and steadily-paced story, augmented by Yeo and Koh’s nuanced performances. He uses an abundance of natural light to invigorate his portrayal of quotidian life, and foregrounds the complexities of each character, particularly during the shocking moment when Ling’s intimacy with Wei Lun goes beyond the contract between teacher and student. The twist might initially seem to arrive out of nowhere, but apart from developing Wei Lun’s attempts at first love, it serves as a kind of revenge on his parents’ lack of parental responsibility. When Ling comforts Wei Lun in a tropical rain by telling him to get used to his situation, the door closes on his hopes for a space of love and affection. But the scene also opens up an unexpected new threshold for Ling’s life by hinting at a possible pregnancy. Wet Season is a boldly expressive tale enmeshed in the matrix of gender, race, and class in contemporary Singapore.
Published as part of London Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 3.