Sales: Memento Films International, Paris ([email protected])


Premiere: Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), 19 May 2013. Theatrical release: Singapore, 29 Aug 2013.

Presented by Singapore Film Commission (SG), Ngee Ann Polytechnic (SG). Produced by Fisheye Pictures (SG). Produced by Memento Films (SG). Executive producers: Anita Kuan, Gina Lau, Ivan Tan, Leong Sze Hian, Ng Aik Hock. Producers: Ang Hwee Sim, Anthony Chen, Wahyuni A. Hadi.

Script: Anthony Chen. Photography: Benoît Soler. Editing: Chen Ho Ping, Joanne Cheong. Music: none. Art direction: Michael Wee. Sound: Zhe Wu.

Cast: Yeo Yann Yann (Lim Hwee Leng, the mother), Chen Tian Wen (Lim Keng Teck, the father), Angeli Bayani (Terry, the maid), Koh Jia Ler (Lim Jia Le, the son), Peter Wee (school discipline master), Jo Kukathas (school head), Naomi Toh (Mrs. Ong, the English teacher), Delwin Neo (fat boy bully), Jo Kwek (Lisa, Hwee Leng's work colleague), Gim Goh (Jimmy Goh), Pamela Wildheart (hairdressing salon owner), Judee Bendiola (hairdresser), Donovon Lee (IT manager), Michael Chua (subordinate), Michael Fong (job interviewer), Elvin Leong (shop owner), Yeo Siew Khim (grandmother), Kelvin Ho (elder brother), Kelly Lim Lt (elder sister-in-law), Elena Chia (elder sister), George Chew (elder brother-in-law), Zelda Tatiana Ng (younger sister), Goh Leng Yong (younger brother-in-law), Ricky Ong (younger brother), Georgia Fun (younger brother's girlfriend).


Ilo Ilo 爸媽不在家

Period light drama
2013, colour, 1.85:1, 99 mins

Directed by Anthony Chen (陳哲藝)

Ilo Ilo

By Derek Elley

Thu, 23 May 2013, 21:50 PM (HKT)

Impressive family drama centred on an immigrant maid/nanny and her troublesome charge. Festivals.


Singapore, 1997. The local economy is suffering, with lay-offs at Chuan Shipping where Lim Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) works, as the Asian Financial Crisis affects the region. Her husband, salesman Lim Keng Teck (Chen Tian Wen), has lost his job but hasn't told her yet. Their 10-year-old son Jia Le (Koh Jia Ler) is a moody brat, always causing trouble at school, so they decide to hire Teresa, aka Terry (Angeli Bayani), a Filipina maid/nanny, to look after him, even though he's really too old for one. Initially, Jia Le is hostile towards Terry but later, after an accident of his own causing, the two gradually start to bond. Terry has a child back home who's being looked after by her sister, but the latter tells her she can no longer continue to do so and she'll have to hire a nanny. A Filipina neighbour recommends Terry to look for an extra job on her day off, and Terry starts working on Sundays in a Filipina-owned hairdresser's in Lucky Plaza. As Jia Le becomes attached to Terry, and hostile towards his parents, pressures increase on the family: Hwee Leng is now heavily pregnant with her second child, and Keng Teck still can't find a job.


A modest but impressive family drama that bypasses the usual Singaporean auteurist tics of arch dialogue and fabricated anomie in favour of well-drawn, basically sympathetic characters, Ilo Ilo 爸媽不在家 (2013) bids fair for writer-director Anthony CHEN 陳哲藝's future features after several shorts during the past decade. Inspired by his own memories of growing up during the '90s, but reportedly not auto-biographical, Chen centres his portrait of a family getting through the economic depression of 1997 on a Filipina maid/nanny and their troublesome son she's been hired to look after.

The film's undidactic feel is all to its credit: this could easily have become a drama about maltreated immigrant labour in middle-class Singapore, or a PC pamphlet about a spoilt kid and his gradual redemption. Instead, it's a character-driven, light drama with plenty of charm in between the moments of conflict that's very accessible.

The naturalistic use of the island's distinctive Singlish-Chinese patois is mirrored by the spot-on portrayal of an average Singaporean family in an average HDB flat. With the economic downturn biting, and the father out of work, the mother is the breadwinner, typing out redundancy letters at the shipping company where she's been for years while also carrying a second child in her belly and managing the whole household. Her business-like handling of the quiet, deferential Filipina Terry feels totally authentic in the performance by YEO Yann Yann 楊雁雁, a Malaysian Chinese theatre actress who's done several films (the wife in Jack NEO 梁智強 and Gilbert CHAN 陳啓全's Love Matters 幸福萬歲 (2009), the elder lead sister in Royston TAN 陳子謙's 881 (2007)).

So, too, is Filipina Angeli BAYANI, also a theatre actress, who's best known internationally for her roles in Lav DIAZ's films. Bayani moves effortlessly from dutiful maid through pining mother to a fierce defender of her own dignity when required, and establishes terrifically natural screen chemistry with newcomer KOH Jia Ler 許家樂 as the spoilt kid in her charge. More on the sidelines during the first half, until the script repositions him in the mainstream, TV and stage actor CHEN Tian Wen 陳天文 is equally good in his first major film role, as a henpecked husband whose pot occasionally boils over.

Period details are minimal but okay, and technical packaging smooth on a budget. Photography by Paris-born Benoît Soler (like Chen, a graduate of the UK's National Film & TV School, also making his feature debut) is naturalistic with a semi-poetic edge, especially in its handling of light, which complements the whole film's approach. Thanks to the involving characters and tight running time, the absence of music is not missed at all. The film's English title, never explained, refers to Iloilo, Terry's home province in the Philippines. The more childlike Chinese title means Mum and Dad Aren't at Home.

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