Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, who won Cannes’ Camera d’Or with his feature debut “Ilo Ilo” in 2013, and was chosen by Variety as one of its 10 Directors to Watch in the same year, is putting the finishing touches to his sophomore feature, “Wet Season,” which he is looking to premiere at an A-list festival. In the intervening six years, he has also been hard at work producing other filmmakers’ work.
Chen describes “Wet Season” as the story of a 40-year-old woman “who is having a bit of crisis in life and is on a journey to rediscover herself, redefine herself and restart [her life].” The woman’s friendship with a young man “helps her reaffirm her identity as a woman,” according to Memento Films Intl., which is handling international sales.
After directing several award-winning shorts, including “Grandma,” which won a special mention at Cannes in 2007, Chen was thrust into the global spotlight with the Camera d’Or win for “Ilo Ilo.” Set in 1997 during the Asian recession, the story of the relationship between a Filipino maid and her young ward struck a chord with audiences worldwide and won some 40 awards.
“In Asia, people look at the film not so much because it won the Camera d’Or, but because it won four Golden Horse awards in that stellar year, which was its 50th anniversary,” says Chen, who is now based in London. “The Golden Horse awards are so important for Chinese-speaking people.” Chen still finds it hard to believe that “Ilo Ilo” won best feature over heavyweight competition that included Tsai Ming-liang’s “Stray Dogs,” Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin” and Johnnie To’s “Drug War.” “It really was the dark horse,” says Chen.
Chen claims that the awards and the box office success of “Ilo Ilo” did not create any pressure for his second feature. “I think a lot of times the pressure comes from the expectation that I set on myself to make a piece of work that I could defend,” Chen says. “That for me was probably the bigger thing. It’s about getting it right, not for the sake of vanity or aesthetic reasons. Because I need to look at it and believe that these emotions are real and there is truth and honesty. Which is why my process of writing is long.”
In the meantime, he has assumed a producing role. In 2014, he teamed with producer Huang Wenhong to launch Giraffe Pictures. Giraffe’s 2016 omnibus film “Distance” was co-written and executive produced by Chen, and he also executive produced Giraffe’s 2017 film “Pop Aye,” directed by Kirsten Tan, which won several awards, including ones at Sundance, Rotterdam and Zurich.
Chen is on board as a co-producer for He Shuming’s feature debut “Ajoomma,” about a widow who gets lost on a trip to Korea to find a new purpose in life. Principal photography for the drama is scheduled for 2020. It won the best co-production award at Macao’s International Film Festival & Awards’ project market in 2018 and an award at Thailand’s Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab earlier in the year. Chen is also a producer on the as yet-to-be titled debut feature by Tan Shijie, one of the “Distance” directors.
Singaporean films are now a fixture at global festivals and routinely win awards.
“I think the challenge for Singapore films moving forward is less so about finding the money,” Chen says. “For me it’s about how do you budget a film that actually makes sense? There is a cap to how much a Singapore film can be made for, especially if it is an independent film, an arthouse drama; even if it does good sales, there is a limit to what the film could do. I’m still trying to work out how we can make this sustainable, especially if we want to continue telling the stories we want to tell.”
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