WET SEASON Enthrals with Its Impeccable Performances and Stunning Cinematography
A teacher and student at a Singapore high school form a special, self-affirming bond.
Director: Anthony Chen
Cast: Koh Jia Ler, Yeo Yann Yann, Christopher Lee Ming-Shun, Yang Shi Bin
Language: Mandarin, English
Runtime: 103 minutes
Throughout the world’s cultural history, water has been widely used to represent the cycle of life, fertility, and new beginnings; floods destroy but leave in their wake fertile soil. In Anthony Chen’s spectacular follow-up to his widely-loved Ilo Ilo, the torrential rain of Singapore’s monsoon season serves as the backdrop, detailing a deeply intimate tale of the struggles of womanhood. Impeccably directed and acted, Wet Season is the must-see film of the year.
While women-centric stories and perspectives remain a key motif, Wet Season is quite the tonal opposite to the heartwarming Ilo Ilo. We follow Ling (Yeo Yann Yann), a Mandarin language teacher, dealing with her infertility while having to care for her sickly father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin).
At work, despite her best intentions, she grapples with a system that couldn’t care less about Chinese language education. Like the pouring rain, there does not seem to be any end to Ling’s troubles. And it is in her fruitless struggles where she forms an unorthodox bond with her student, Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler).
Throughout Wet Season, our leads make troubling decisions that, as onlookers of their relationship, are frustrating to accept – most notably, with the ever-changing nature of their bond. Wei Lun, a secondary school student, is painfully oblivious of the implications of what he does and says. Meanwhile, his teacher Ling continues on with their relationship despite knowing full well that the whole thing might be amiss. At the same time, it is hard not to sympathise with the leads when both find – in each other – a way to supplement the gaping void in their lives.
Perhaps Wei Lun’s behaviour can be blamed on his absent parents. Perhaps Ling’s actions and decisions stem from having to deal with an unsupportive husband (Christopher Lee Ming-Shun) and her longing for motherly purpose. Nevertheless, can we accept what happens between them? That is the chief challenge posed by the film.
There are definitely flaws in Wet Season. Heavy-handed lines of dialogue – particularly whenever the film criticises Singapore’s nonchalant attitude towards Chinese education – rear its ugly head from time to time and are sorely out of place for a film that relishes in its quiet pace.
While its leads are clearly fleshed out, they do share scenes with two-dimensional characters such as the tired caricature of Ling’s unfaithful, unhelpful and unbearable husband. Nevertheless, these feel like nitpicks amidst the other elements of the film.
To me, the beauty of Wet Season is how it manages to make me sympathise and understand the very human decisions of its characters; it feels like each scene and frame is meticulously constructed to achieve this goal.
Private moments of Ling at home taking care of her ailing father-in-law is framed by corridors and objects around the house, lending a voyeuristic feel. Ling’s emotional breakdowns are beautifully framed through rear-view mirrors, matching how she never allows herself to seem outwardly vulnerable. Picking a sequence to highlight is frankly akin to picking a favourite child.
Performance wise, Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler are outstanding in their performance as leads. Having previously worked together in Ilo Ilo – albeit with a completely different character dynamic – the chemistry between the two is apparent and feels appropriately natural.
Yet their roles are far from a walk in the park, especially with the devastating setbacks and heartbreaks that befall Ling, all played exceptionally by Yeo. Both of their characters seek each other for wildly contrasting reasons, and it is this clash of expectations between the two that is the heart of Wet Season. Against this responsibility, both actors still knocked it out of the park.
Nevertheless, the performance that stood out to me the most was Yang Shi Bin as Ling’s father-in-law. Already nominated together with Koh under the Best Supporting Actor category at the Golden Horse Awards, Yang enthrals with a close-to-perfect portrayal of an elderly man recovering from a debilitating stroke.
There is a scene towards the end of the film – featured prominently in the film’s posters – of Ling and Wei Lun embracing in the rain, after spending most of the film trapped by the weather. If the motif of water representing the cycle of life is applied, it can represent both characters finally embracing life itself – even the more uncomfortable and unorthodox aspects of it. This was my takeaway of what director Chen wants his audience to take away from the film; that beauty can always be found in the orthodox and especially in life itself.
Anthony Chen’s Wet Season will the opening film of the 30th Singapore International Film Festival. The film will have a wider cinema release from 28 November onwards.
Check out its trailer below: