Last updated: May 1, 2014 3:26 pm

Ilo Ilo – film review

A Singaporean director’s charming, semi-autobiographical tale of family tensions
Koh Jia Ler and Angeli Bayani in 'Ilo Ilo'

Koh Jia Ler and Angeli Bayani in 'Ilo Ilo'

Clattering like a wedding car with trophies, including the Cannes Camera d’Or for best first feature, Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo is a charmer from Singapore. It has taken a year to reach Anglo-Saxon shores: is it too charming? The writer-director is certainly prone at times to self-charm, bewitched like us by his obstreperous, semi-autobiographical 10-year-old hero – Chen was inspired by his own childhood – who skids from truancy to mischief to cavalier self-injury. (He breaks his wrist attempting a bike getaway from homework.) The boy revels in the mother-nanny jealousies caused when newly pregnant mum, needing help in the house, hires a new Philippine maid and childminder (Angeli Bayani).

Chen scurries his handheld camera around the apartment and neighbouring streets like a tyro Truffaut. He could be making Les Quatre cent coos. We go “coo”, blissfully, almost every time the kid is on screen, played with Buster Keaton deadpan-comical skills by Koh Jia Ler. We coo with respect and admiration whenever the potentially saccharine is supplanted by the ambushingly astringent.


Nigel Andrews

Raising a child is a nightmare in miniature, Chen suggests, repeated every day. Worst scenario for a family: it makes a child of everyone else. It’s soon clear that mum and dad are as much in the new helper’s hands – or at her mercy – as the boy. Dad, played by Chen Tian Wen, is already a loveable failure. (A travelling salesman, he tries to sell “unbreakable” glass to two small-time industrialists: they shatter it at first test.) Yeo Yann Yann as the mother is superb, a stoically exhausted career woman trying to juggle a capricious maid, an anarchic brat, a calamity-prone spouse and a home life that seems to be growing like antic, runaway mould around her.

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