Making It Rain in May – A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Wet Season
Wet Season has finally returned home after its tour on the international film circuit, opening the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) on 21 November and opening in cinemas everywhere today.
Reuniting from Anthony Chen’s previous feature Ilo Ilo, Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler star in the melancholic Wet Season. The film patiently unveils the budding bond between Chinese language teacher Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) and her secondary school student Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler). Read all about what we thought of the film in our review here.
While the film has garnered international acclaim wherever it went, perhaps the film’s feather in its cap is its slew of nominations received at the 2019 Golden Horse Awards, including Best Feature Film and two nods for Best Supporting Actor. Yann Yann’s tour de force performance ultimately triumphed over a strong field, nabbing her the Best Actress award.
Below is a truncated (we left out the spoilers!) transcription of the press conference preluding the film’s premiere at the SGIFF and the Golden Horse Awards. In attendance were Yann Yann, Jia Ler, Yang Shi Bin, and director Anthony Chen, where they gave us a behind-the-scenes look at Wet Season.
Host: Tickets sold like hot cakes for all the screenings and events surrounding Wet Season? Did all of you expect this reception?
Anthony Chen : I heard that tickets were sold out within 30 minutes for the opening ceremony and I did not expect this. But what is most important is getting the support of the public when the film opens in theatres. I feel that the story of Wet Season will resonate with Singaporeans and Malaysians. Even though the international crowd – more specifically, foreign film critics – have loved the film, I still hope that the local crowd will have the opportunity to watch this film on the big screen.
Host: Wet Season received six nominations in this year’s Golden Horse Award. Can you tell us about your reactions after receiving the news?
Yang Shi Bin: After wrapping up for Wet Season, I was busy with theatre work so I did not pay attention to how the film was doing. I was definitely happy and excited after receiving the news of my nomination.
Host: Both you and Jia Ler are nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award at this year’s Golden Horse Awards. How do you view your ‘competitor’?
Yang Shi Bin: Each new generation should excel the previous. I hope that he wins the award because it would also be a win for our cast. In the end, we are each both one fifth of the competition and it is all up to the jury to make their decisions.
Koh Jia Ler: I am very happy. This is the second time going to the Awards with director Chen – the first being for Ilo Ilo. I was still young back then to know what was going on. Now I appreciate the magnitude of the event and I am very excited to be nominated.
Yeo Yann Yann: To add on to what Jia Ler said, he’s already kept up at night nervous about the awards. Like the rest of the cast, I am very happy to have the opportunity to attend the Awards and to mingle with so many film lovers there. I do not think I am at the nervous phase yet. I definitely have some confidence heading in but I will also always feel like there is room for improvement and learning, which the Awards are an opportunity to.
Anthony Chen: Although I am nominated, I really want the actors to be able to take the top prizes. I feel the cast have been ‘tortured’ by me throughout the making of Wet Season and they should be rewarded for it. For Yann Yann, I think she has a 50% chance of winning; I think she reached the next level with her performance in Wet Season.
Between Jia Ler and Shi Bin, I personally want Shi Bin to take the award. Firstly, Shi Bin is 71 and getting old. Secondly, he is a veteran theatre actor – making his start in the 60s working with Kuo Pao Kun – and I think he is the first nomination in the history of the Awards to make it without any dialogue in his role. The feedback we got from Taiwan was that they were flabbergasted to find out that the stroke patient in Wet Season is an actor and not a real patient. It is a performance that deserves recognition.
Even though the film is nominated under the Best Director, Best Feature Film, and Best Original Screenplay, I hope that the cast will win the awards.
Host: Wet Season is filled with scenes with rain but which of these is the most memorable for you? And for director Chen, which scene was the most difficult to film?
Anthony Chen: All of them were difficult; almost too difficult. About 80% of the film takes place while it is raining. Singapore’s monsoon season in November and December brings a lot of rain. But we were filming in May when Singapore is at its hottest. All the rain in the film was artificial and we took a lot of time to get it right.
I think the scene that stands out to me was one of the last scenes in Wet Season – the one that is featured prominently on the posters. That day of filming was probably the most humid and hottest day of the entire process with no clouds in sight. After everything was set up, I remember waiting for about two hours on that day for the weather to be better for us. While waiting, I was reminded that the entire shoot will be delayed by two months if we do not complete the scene on that day.
I was really angry when I first heard that – how can I film the scene when the sun is too bright? Especially when the scene is such an important part of the film? I continued to wait for a while more before I finally decided to go with it. Thankfully, I think the end product is still good.
Host: What about Jia Ler and Yann Yann? Did the both of you catch a flu while filming Wet Season?
Yeo Yann Yann: It was really hot. I think the audience might feel like the film is quite romantic and quiet. In actual fact, the entire process was large-scale and chaotic, mostly due to the artificial rain machine.
Anthony Chen: Even though a scene might be emotional and touching, everybody was shouting behind-the-scenes just to communicate with each other.
Yeo Yann Yann: There is one scene where I had to run towards Jia Ler and there were about five to seven crew members running together behind me. So even though the film might feel relaxing and simple, there was a lot going on behind the scenes. A lot of hard work from the entire crew was put into Wet Season and I hope that the public will watch it and appreciate their efforts. For the film to come off as natural is also a testament to their care and attention to detail.
Koh Jia Ler: I thought the entire process was fun. Whenever we had to reshoot a scene, I would have to get my hair dried and change my clothes. Everything was quite hectic though. Since the machines were so loud, we couldn’t really hear what director Chen was shouting at us.
Host: We all know that director Chen is very detail-oriented and very particular about what he wants in his film. Despite the ‘torturous’ ordeal he puts his actors through, Yann Yann why did you choose to work with Anthony again?
Yeo Yann Yann: During the filming of Ilo Ilo, a particular moment made me realise that Anthony understands women even better than I do. Even after he settled on me, he still told me that I really was not meant for the role. I think our personalities are quite similar in that both of us are stubborn – It is exactly because he thinks that I am not meant for the role where I wanted to prove him wrong.
Ling’s character and appearance are the complete opposite of me. Throughout the process I put in a lot of effort and attention to getting closer to Ling, which subsequently got me increasingly comfortable with the role. I am pleasantly surprised by the end results. Despite this, I do not think it is ever possible for me to be completely ‘replace’ and be one with my character. I can be very close to her but I will always be aware that I am an actress.
This also meant that the entire process was gruelling for me. Every breath and every step, every movement and every expression, I had to relearn; I had to completely unlearn my own quirks for the role. I feel that such a process is a big challenge for any actor; for Yann Yann, this was a monumental challenge. Especially when Ling is constantly beset by challenges and have to always pull herself together.
Host: Yann Yann, both you and Jia Ler worked together for Ilo Ilo. How do you think he has grown between the two movies?
Yeo Yann Yann: Between the two movies when both of us attended a workshop, that was when I realised that Jia Ler is a very determined and motivated actor. What he has cannot be trained; he is naturally talented and just needs the right push.
Once we started filming Wet Season, Jia Ler was still calling me mother because of our previous roles. So one of the first thing I told him was to not call me that; we are colleagues now so call me by my name. It was not weird for me but Jia Ler did say that he was nervous during the shoots because of our previous roles’ dynamics. So much so that he got into an argument with the director when we were shooting one particular scene, asking why he has to work with me for this film.
Koh Jia Ler: For that scene, the director was still unsatisfied with the performances even after a ton of takes. I was frustrated with everything and I even told him that I didn’t want to act anymore and I wanted to leave.
Anthony Chen: He was great for all of the scenes except that particular one. Jia Ler is very unique. I think while he is naturally talented, he is also very lazy. He might be the laziest actor in Singapore. He is the only one who doesn’t bring the script to the set. I would ask him where he is script is, and he would reply that he left it at home because he already memorised all the lines. He is the only actor on set that won’t forget their lines – even veteran actors like Yann Yann and Christopher Lee will but not for him.
Check out our interview with Tan Si En, one of Wet Season’s producers, here!