Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Singapore's crowded family life shows in Chen's "Ilo Ilo", set during the 1997 financial crisis

Singapore, an independent and prosperous city-state near the Equator on the Malay Peninsula, got a lot of billing in the 90s for its apparent social conservatism and family values, and the new film from Anthony Chen, “Ilo Ilo” demonstrates it well.
Teck (Chen Tian Wen) and Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) raise a somewhat spoiled and bratty 10-year-old son Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) in a high rise in Singapore, near the harbor. The 1997 Asian financial crisis has ensued, and Teck will soon lose his job as a salesman (his industrial glass product seems suspect anyway).  Leng works as an administrator for a shipping company, and her duties often include typing layoff notices.  They’ve hired Terry (Angeli Bayani) as their “maid”, apparently before they realized how bad the crisis is.  Jiale doesn’t get along with Terry, whose duties apparently include serving as a nanny (quite intimately). The name of the film is based on the area of the Philippines that Terry comes form.  Leng keeps her passport.
The tone of the film is set early when Leng’s coworkers object to her suddenly taking time off from work to run home to tend to a problem with Jiale, while her coworkers have to pick up the slack.  “Wait until you have kids,” she says.  That seems to feed into the debate today on paid parental leave in this country. Apparently Singapore does require that employers provide paid maternity leave, link.  Family life in Sinagpore seems based on forced intimacy.
Financial difficulties mount.  Next door, a man jumps from the highrise with a thud.  Teck loses most of the family’s savings in the stock market.  Leng gest swindled by one of these “get rich” seminar operators.  They’ll have to send Terry back.  Leng is pregnant with a second child, vomiting on camera once. Jiale's behavior at school is egregious enough to get him publicly caned in front of a school assembly. 
The end of the film shows us the birth of the second baby.  Life – and procreation – must go on.
The film shows a modest amount of outdoor Singapore, like the Metro and the harbor area.  I know one person who vacationed there in 1998. I also know someone who worked in Kuala Lumpur in IT for a long time.
The official site is here (Film Movement).
I saw the film at the new Angelika Pop-Up (link) at Union Market in NE Washington DC, about a half mile walk from the NoMa Red Line Station and a half-mile from the planned streetcar line on H St NE (closer to one mile from Union Station), and near Gallaudet University and Gonzaga High School.  I bought the only ticket for the 5 PM show, so it seemed to be just for me. Concessions (compared to all other Angelika properties, which seem to have cafes – especially Fairfax VA and Dallas – both of which I have visited).  The theater says it will build a larger space on the second floor of the warehouse next door, and close this temporary space.  I would wonder about the wisdom of placing a new theater here unless the neighborhood builds more condos and apartments very nearby, or Union Market soon generates more retail traffic.  There was plenty of street parking and a lot, although I used Metro and walked.  It has been said that this new spaces is inspired by a “pop-up” on Houston St in New York City (June 30 review).

The show offered an animated short film, from “DC Shorts”, called “Marking the Distance”, a PBS POV film about a woman who has brain surgery and loses her short term memory to a subsequent stoke.” 

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