A Film a Week - Wet Season

After his Camera d'Or-winning debut feature "Ilo Ilo" (2013), Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen re-teams again with his two leading actors Yan Yan Yeo and Jia Ler Koh to tell another story about surrogate motherhood and the life of the unprivileged in Singapore. This time, though, the relationship between the two characters is quite different and could be seen as riskier. "Wet Season" premiered at Toronto, before heading on a world tour of festivals.

Ling (Yan) is a Mandarin teacher at school and a complete outsider in Singaporean society. Her subject, though compulsory for the students, is taken less seriously than English and Maths. She is also an emigrant from the ranks of Malaysian Chinese minority, and the news reports about the unrest in neighbouring country she listens to affect her greatly. Her marriage with cold and distant Andrew (Christopher Ming-Shu Lee) is in dire straits, as they keep trying to conceive a child with no success. At home, she is relegated to the role of a housekeeper and a primary caregiver to her wheelchair-bound father in law (Shi Bin Yang) who spends his days watching old Hong Kong martial arts movies.

Ling finds only sense in life with the only student actually interested in her additional classes for those who are about to underachieve at final exams. His name is Weilun (Jia) and he initially just wants to please his parents who see Mandarin language as valuable asset for the future in doing business with China. What starts as a professional relationship, soon turns into something more. First she drives him to his home, then, after she realizes his parents are always absent, she conducts the classes at her place and finally she even assumes the role of an avid supporter at his wushu (an acrobatic form of martial arts) practices and competitions. Soon, the teenage boy starts romanticizing his teacher...

During the prolonged exposition of the film, which occupies more than a half of its 103 minutes runtime, Chen shows that he is more than capable to direct a slow-burning melodrama that juggles with a number of topics. His sense of pace is spot on and he allows emotions to build up. In the latter half, however, he falls victim to contraptions hiding in his own script full of common places of the melodrama genre, paired with some ethically dubious moments near the end. The filmmaker redeems himself with introducing a non-human character, the constant monsoon rain, that is responsible for creating the mood, the atmosphere and the visual identity of the film.

Technically, "Wet Season" is an accomplished piece of cinema, as the cinematographer Sam Care paints a uniquely realistic portrait of Singapore devoid of much of the often-seen glamour, which suits the general mood of the film and the issues Chen brings up. Care also visually captures the essence of the rain with a colder palette of colours, which is also in sync with Chen's script and directing.

Both of the actors fill their roles perfectly and whole-heartedly, until the plot reaches the point of no return. Their joined chemistry is an asset here, and so is the fact that they have some acting history together. Jia matured properly from their previous collaboration with the director and Yan has kept and even enlarged her integrity by playing a very complex character.

Even if it is far from a perfect film, "Wet Season" should be considered a noble effort with more pros than cons. That makes it a decent watch.

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