Chen’s introspective sophomore effort features a delicate lead performance by Yeo Yann Yann which elevates a narrative that seems content to operate in a single gear.
Dir. Anthony Chen
2019 | Singapore | Drama | 103 mins | 2.39:1 | Mandarin, English & Hokkien
M18 (passed clean) for mature theme and sexual scene
Cast: Yeo Yann Yann, Koh Jia Ler, Yang Shi Bin
Plot: A teacher and student at a Singapore high school form a special, self-affirming bond.
Awards: Won 1 Golden Horse – Best Leading Actress; Nom. for 5 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (x2), Best Original Screenplay; Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto)
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Singapore Film Society Screening (Golden Village Paya Lebar)
After the unprecedented success of Ilo Ilo (2013), which remains to be my favourite film from any Singaporean filmmaker, many were curious about what writer-director Anthony Chen would do next.
I’m glad that he did not choose to make another ‘Ilo Ilo’-type film, and if his sophomore feature were to prove anything, it is that he is a remarkably sensitive director of actors.
Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler return, but this time playing a Chinese language teacher and student respectively. Yeo’s delicate lead performance is impressive, eschewing showiness for restraint, as she plays Ling who has problems conceiving a child.
She goes through the daily humdrum of caring for her stroke-stricken father-in-law (an excellent Yang Shi Bin who reminds me of my late granddad who had a similar condition), and going to school to teach a subject that very few bother to take responsibility for, least of all the students.
As the monsoon rain continues to pour incessantly if erratically week after week, her student Wei Lun begins to form a special bond with her.
Wet Season hovers somewhere between a character study (of Ling) and a traditional drama. It works better if you see it as the former because Chen adopts an introspective style that places emphasis on Ling’s troubled emotions as they bubble beneath her seemingly composed exterior.
In fact, the entire film seems to operate in a mood register similar to that of its protagonist, which is to say that the work is undramatic—and hence if you see it as a traditional drama, particularly one that seems content to function only in one single gear, then it is difficult to feel excited about its storytelling.
Wet Season does go into mature territory, though for some viewers, this might be a point of controversy. Perhaps the best way to appreciate Chen’s work is to see it as a portrait of a lady in need of fire, where Ling needs to rekindle the flame inside her that has been lost to the cold and eternal rain.
Wet Season may not be as consistently compelling as Ilo Ilo, but it is a welcome change of pace and direction for the highly-intuitive filmmaker.