Back from the Camera d’Or 2013 winner, Ilo Ilo, Singaporean director, Anthony Chen returns with a similarly bittersweet, yet forgivable melodrama which picks on contemporary problem in Singapore in Wet Season. Set during the soaking monsoon season that drenches almost mercilessly, Chen puts forward his observations of Singapore’s blindspots and weaves it into the story of a lonesome teacher and an abandoned teenager. Reuniting his previous film’s leads, Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler, the narrative observes their respective loneliness before finding a little sunshine in each other amidst the rainy days.
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Most of the film’s narrative revolves around Ling (Yeo), a Malaysian working as a Chinese teacher in Singapore. Life hasn’t been merciful for her in the recent years; and the unending wet season almost represents the emotional burden that drenches her heart all over. At home, her husband (Christopher Lee) seems to have lost interest in her after years of fruitless struggle to conceive a child. Ironically, she’s left to look after her ailing father-in-law alone while her husband is away somewhere. At school, her subject is marginalized by the faculty and underestimated by the students. She even goes the extra miles by giving after-class remedial that the students barely attend, except for Wei Lun (Koh), who reluctantly attend because the schedule’s conflicted his Wushu practice but have to gain the grades for the sake of his parents’ pride.
As in Ilo Ilo, there’s this emanating maternal instinct playing major roles in the narrative development of Wet Season. On the former’s case, a spoiled boy finds a maternal figure in his housemaid, who at the same time finds a way to channel her unfulfilled maternal nature to tenderly care for the boy. In the latter, the case is subtler yet more sophisticated in the implication. Ling’s longing to look after her own child is subdued, but somehow substituted with the menial works of taking care of his father-in-law. However, the tenderness is basically one-sided as the old man is unresponsive for most times. In Wei Lun, she finds out that the feeling is reciprocal; she’s wanted a child to care for and he’s been longing for a maternal love that he barely gets due to his parents’ bustle. The film revels every moment in portraying how tenderness grow between both leads until, in one moment, it snaps into a forbidden romance that feels out of place but not unsurprising.
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Wet Season benefits from the leads’ individual performance and their ever-staggering chemistry. There’s warmth exuding into the air as they spend time together, making the room a little warmer in contrast to the rainy days outside. This film also observes the different point of view between a teenager that barely comes of age and a grown-up in seeing the condition they are in. Wei Lun’s often carried away with excitement and relentless, boyish energy, meanwhile Ling is more repressed with carefulness. She understands her every move, but, as in the oldest story, silence often converts even some good fellow. The little moments between the leads are enjoyable to watch, including the intimate time when Ling offers Wei Lun to eat durians together with her. The big moment between the two is barely hinted, but the sexual tension is real even when it’s unexpected.
Observing from how each story mirrors the other, including the recurring theme of unfulfilled parental love and Oedipal tendencies in both films (in which Wet Season takes a step further forward), it’s not hard to suspect that, in some ways somehow, Chen’s work is almost autobiographical. The heartfelt melancholy and the absorbing depth in emotions suggest how personal the stories are for the writer-director. The parallel is astonishing but not always self-referential. Chen finds a way to make his characters real and alive in his melancholic world. Their struggles are real and so are the emotions. Therefore, the symbolism of wet season unraveled at the end of the movie feels rewarding even when the story stumbles upon sappy melodrama mode over and over again.