Howard Hawks thought that if a movie contained four or five memorable scenes, the movie worked. Anthony Chen, who won Cannes’ Camera d’Or for Ilo Ilo, would please Hawks. Chen knows his memorable scenes, and they usually involve two or more of a quartet of indelible characters stumbling and bumbling about a cramped Singapore apartment during the 1997 economic crisis. There’s little Jiale (the incredible Koh Jia Ler), a bona fide Dennis the Menace, causing nothing but trouble for overworked mom Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), stressed dad Teck (Chen Tian Wen), and loyal Filipino maid Teresa (Angeli Bayani), who is stretched to the limit keeping this dysfunctional family from imploding. Teck is fired, a fact that, in an effort to save face, he keeps from one and all for an astounding portion of the running time, a ticking time bomb for the viewer even as the family remains clueless; Jiale is pretty much uncontrollable, and Leng is drowning in denial. The dynamics are just about perfect, and calibrated for a long chain of terrific scenes, like the one where Teck grabs Jiale’s profoundly annoying mobile device and tosses it out the window of the decaying family car. Comedy is inside the movie’s domestic terror, and terror inside its comedy. Chen’s next move should be interesting.
Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo, TIFF 2013