Foreign interest in ‘Ilo Ilo’ picks up pace

Jeanette Tan
Singapore Showbiz

"Ilo Ilo" cast members Chen Tianwen, Koh Jia Ler, Yeo Yann Yann and director Anthony Chen at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. (Photo: Fisheye Pictures)

Singaporean director Anthony Chen's award-winning debut film "Ilo Ilo" is picking up pace internationally, with screening rights to the film sold to at least 24 different markets worldwide so far.

According to Chen in a sharing session on the film at ScreenSingapore on Wednesday afternoon, the film is also on its way to recouping the amount that has gone into it -- and could potentially earn profits.

In fact, the film has done unprecedentedly well in foreign markets, he said, like in France, where it is into its 12th consecutive week of screening. There, it has drawn almost 83,000 admissions after opening on 4 September, translating to about S$1.02 million in takings at the box office.

This vastly eclipses the performance of the admissions figures for other Singapore-made films that were shown in the French market: Eric Khoo's "Tubumi" (5,929 admissions), "My Magic" (5,952 admissions), "Be With Me" (30,263 admissions), "12 Storeys" (9,530 admissions) and Royston Tan's "4:30" (4,602 admissions), and even comes close to the 95,000 admissions clocked in by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata".

"Ilo Ilo" opened in Hong Kong and Taiwan on 21 and 29 November respectively, and so far, takings have been promising with Hong Kong cashing in HK$519,322 (about S$100,000) over its first two weeks, and Taiwan raking in roughly NT$1.02 million (about S$43,000) from its first weekend in cinemas.

The film also premiered in Manila and Ilo Ilo on Wednesday, showing on between 25 and 30 screens, so takings for the film there remain to be seen, added Chen.

Here in Singapore, Chen said local interest was revived in the film after its historic Golden Horse wins for its second run, which is into its second week now, after showing on 15 screens over 11 weeks from late August.

Its takings crossed the million-dollar mark a couple days ago, and by Wednesday had earned S$1.04 million, with an additional S$55,000 in television and DVD sales here. This, said Chen, puts "Ilo Ilo" just behind "Taxi Taxi" (S$1.433 million) and of course, Jack Neo's seemingly-unstoppable "Ah Boys To Men 2" (S$7.9 million).

Not bad at all, for an arthouse film, added Chen, noting that other similar-styled local films typically only show on anywhere between one and three screens in Singapore. Its showing is also pretty impressive when looked at alongside "Tatsumi", which earned $21,000, and Boo Junfeng's "Sandcastle", which, despite only getting one screen, raked in an impressive $55,000.

Budget breakdown

"Ilo Ilo" director Anthony Chen (right), responds to questions at a panel on Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at ScreenSingapore with his producer Wahyuni A Hadi. (Yahoo photo)

At the same time, Chen laid out the budget for the film and the investments that went into it -- roughly half of his S$700,000 capital came from the Singapore Film Commission, while four private donors forked out S$50,000 each ("They were prepared to lose it all," said Chen), and the remainder came from Chen's alma mater, Ngee Ann Polytechnic -- although he reckons their investment could be a one-time affair.

This was spread over 25 shoot days, as well as an additional two contingency days with a smaller crew -- a period that was "good enough" for him to ensure he got the shots that he wanted.

"I was very, very wary of getting the wrong partners involved because I wanted a lot of creative autonomy on this film," he said, adding that from start to finish, he "would say that (he) had full control over the whole film".

So, has the film broken even? Will it break even? Chen outlined the film's gross income up to Wednesday, which amounted to, inclusive of some S$325,000 in TV and ancillary sales so far, about S$2.8 million. This goes slightly above the typical "magic number" of S$2.1 million or three times the film's budget: the amount many filmmakers and industry players suggest is required to break even and look toward profiting from from a film, said Chen.

"If by that theory (that a film needs to earn three times its budget to recoup its losses and break even)... I wouldn't say I'm sure, but I would say there's a very, very strong chance that the film is going into recoupment, very soon, of course, when the money and the cheques start coming in, and it might actually go into a profit," he said.