SINGAPORE — Award-winning filmmaker Anthony Chen’s latest work, Wet Season, takes place during Singapore’s monsoon season, during which the hazy, humid heat is but a mere memory.
The film’s protagonist is Ling (Yeo Yann Yann), a thirty-something-year-old Chinese language teacher in a boys’ school who yearns for a child of her own. At school, her days are filled with frustration. The boys she teaches in her classes care little for the subject and place more importance on more practical ones like maths and science. Even when she goes home, her time is not her own. Most of it is spent caring for her sickly father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin) or cooking dinners for her husband Andrew (Christopher Lee), who is cold towards her because of her infertility issues.
Enter Weilun (Koh Jia Ler), a student whose Chinese is so poor that he is forced to attend remedial lessons with Ling. His parents are absent, often away on business trips, and when Weilun is injured and forced to use crutches, Ling starts sending him home. After that, the two strike up a friendship that soon transcends the walls that both of them have put up around themselves.
After winning the Camera d’Or in Cannes as well as a Golden Horse award for Best Feature Film for his 2013 film Ilo Ilo, Chen set the bar high for Singaporean cinema and proved it was possible to make films that resonated with local and international audiences alike. One might be forgiven for thinking that he is trying to replicate that success by casting Yeo and Koh — who played mother and son respectively in Ilo Ilo — in this new project.
But far from being lazy, this casting only serves to underscore the maternal affection that Ling has for Weilun, as well as the admiration that he has for her. Yeo and Koh’s onscreen chemistry is an asset here, as Ling and Weilun are both searching for a substitute to replace whatever is missing in their lives. There is a tenderness and affection between the two actors that is hard to find or replicate, and the result is a believable bond between teacher and student that soon starts to cross the line of appropriateness.
Yes, that tenderness and affection that Ling and Weilun have for each other is headed exactly where you might think it is going. This results in some scenes that may make for difficult watching, even with viewers who go in with the knowledge of what transpires in the film. What is truly amazing is how thoughtfully this taboo subject is treated, and it’s apparent that Chen has spent an enormous amount of time slaving over every scene, every beat, every emotion displayed.
That being said, the development of the relationship between Ling and Weilun is a slow one, with things coming to a head only in the third act of the film. There are long stretches in certain scenes that could do with some cutting down, but it also offers viewers an in-depth look into the motivations of both characters. Chen also ends Wet Season with an ambiguous ending, one that is sure to have audiences talking long after the credits roll.
Yeo recently won Best Actress at the recently concluded Golden Horse Awards for her performance here, and it is a well deserved accolade. As Ling, she brings a humanity and relatability to the character that immediately ingratiates her to viewers, while Koh shows much promise in his portrayal of an impulsive, idealistic teenager.
Chen’s artistry shines through in his craft and in the painstaking way he develops characters. It’s a worthy follow-up to Ilo Ilo, and one that will continue to show international audiences that Singaporean film is worth keeping an eye out for.
Score: 4/5 stars
Wet Season opens in cinemas 28 November, 2019 (Singapore).