Does Ilo Ilo mean anything to you? Does it mean anything to Singapore? What does Ilo Ilo mean to me? Here are some thoughts. (: Warning: spoilers ahead.
1. A Singapore-made film is outstanding enough to receive enthusiastic accolades – think: a 15 minute standing ovation at Cannes, which would have been longer if not for the next event – on the international stage, even though it’s Director Anthony Chen’s debut feature film. Chen’s short films are really worth watching too – ‘Ah Ma’ totally moved me to tears.
2. That a seemingly regular story about a regular family with a regular maid in tiny Singapore, could attract such overwhelming empathy and interest across cultures all around the world attests to the commonality of humanity and the near-universal experience of alienation and displacement, in the face of intensifying globalization.
3. Singaporeans really love 4D. Recall: the discipline master taking bribes in the form of high-frequency winning 4D number.
4. It invites us to embrace the beauty and romance in the smallest things in Singapore life, all of which makes every moment worth living – the tranquility and quiet in the run-of-the-mill HDB unit when nobody is at home; the ritual of eating together as a family or extended family; our beautiful Singlish (yes it is – an adroit idiosyncratic combination of English, Chinese, Malay, Hokkien and sometimes other dialects – and can’t be found anywhere else except, well, Malaysia). Our pride and identity in taking the pledge when we were in primary school (if not now); the certainty of punishment when we make mistakes (Think: disciplinary caning); keeping money and precious items in biscuit tins, amongst many others – it rests on your willingness to look, and feel.
5. Is it just me who also had a pet chicken or did everyone have a pet chicken at a certain point of their childhood? (Yes, my family ate it in the end…)
6. That we are in fact, contrary to public perception and government rhetoric, pretty accepting and forgiving with people taking our stuff, replacing our roles or diluting our culture, for that matter – Recall: “you think I don’t know you use my lipstick? I close one eye only.” sentence uttered by the mother to Terry with regards to her using her lipstick towards the end of the film; the silent fuming of the mother when the son asked Terry to take picture with him, or when Jia Le was more interested in the sweets that Terry bought than what she bought.
7. We are pretty generous with money, in fact, material things appears to be our preferred and rather dominant mode of expressing concern to our loved ones. Recall: The mother buying stuff for Jia Le, giving Terry a new lipstick when sending her off at the airport.
8. We are not apathetic, we are just stoic, and not that good at expressing ourselves – Jia Le did not speak much or eloquently, yet it was never ambiguous what he meant and how much he loved Terry. Recall: Jia Le wanting to take picture with Terry during his birthday, Jia Le giving food to Terry during family reunion dinner, and the poignant scene of Jia Le cutting off Terry’s hair for keepsake.
9. Simply telling a genuine story with exquisite cinematographic skill and soul is sufficient to transcend oceans, speak volumes and touch hearts. This should be a huge motivator to aspiring local filmmakers to tell their own stories and make their mark too.
10. All the best for Ilo Ilo for the Taiwan Golden Horse award! Winners will be announced on November 23 – and Ilo Ilo has garnered 6 nominations including Best Feature Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best New Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Newcomer.
Yes, Singapore can do it, she can become a cultured nation, whatever way we define it – we have an active arts and culture scene; talents with passion and drive; love for the island and all it stands for – it just takes time. On that note, Ilo Ilo means more to us than an award-winning film – it assures us that we will get there.