Wet Season


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wet Season
"The drama is delicately handled."

Six years after his breakthrough success at Cannes with Ilo Ilo, Anthony Chen returns with a film which again features Yeo Yann-yann and Koh Jia-ler as lonely people who form an unexpected and troubling bond. The roles were not written with them in mind and they took them up only after a lengthy casting process, but the awkwardness stemming from their previous onscreen relationship - very meaningful to Koh at the time because he was a child - adds something extra here, even as they submerge themselves in very different roles.

This is not the plump-faced, cute little Koh of 2013. He's 17 here, and a keen martial artist. His sport finds a way into the story, in inter-school competitions and a bedroom full of posters for the likes of Kung Fu Panda and Drunken Master. Here, he is student Wei-lun, neglected at home, behind at school, aware hat he's going to need to sharpen up his Mandarin if he is to leave Singapore and go into business in China. Unlike the other boys in the remedial class, he's actually committed to attending and doing the work, not just because of his hopes for the future but because it allows him to spend time with teacher Miss Ling (Yeo), on whom he has a crush. Cadging lifts home when the monsoon rains begin, he slowly, persistently inveigles himself into her life.

Where, in this situation, should a teacher draw the line? Ling is under a lot of pressure. She's struggling just to get her class to pass a subject which no-one, including the school board, seems to care much about anymore. She's caring for her mentally and physically disabled father-in-law (played with great sensitivity and charm by Yang Shi-bin), a job which seems to have fallen to her by default because of her sex. Her husband, who is often out of town on business, leaves it to her to deal with emergencies, which means that if she is to maintain her commitment to her one hardworking student then she is seemingly left with no choice but to invite him to her home. She doesn't flirt - and yet something is happening between her and the boy.

Chen has told me that his primary interest was in exploring the relationship between two lonely people. Ling's marriage is disintegrating, under strain after eight years of unsuccessful fertility treatment, a process which the director has also gone through in his own life. (Viewers should be aware that there are some very direct shots of injections featured here.) Her longing for a child, for some kind of future, is shown in parallel with her diligent and loving but ultimately futile care for the old man - perhaps not unlike the care she gives to a language nobody seems to want to speak anymore. She is only 40 but she seems to be being dragged towards old age, and Wei-lun represents something different. When the dam between the two eventually breaks it is sudden, uneasy, complicated. Perhaps more than one wrong lesson is learned. Exactly where responsibility lies, however, is a difficult thing to pinpoint.

Chen uses the rain (almost all created artificially) as a visual cage, locking the characters together in lonely rooms, in her car; or cutting her off altogether. We glimpse her through doorways, through the slats of blinds, always hemmed in. There is no music, just the sound of the rain. Within this suffocating frame, the drama is delicately handled. Selected as Singapore's submission for this year's Best International Feature Film Oscar, Wet Season is a quietly troubling, beautifully composed piece of work.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2021
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In Singapore, teacher Ling becomes the object of an infatuation when she takes one of her students under her wing.

Director: Anthony Chen

Writer: Anthony Chen

Starring: Jia Ler Koh, Yann Yann Yeo, Christopher Ming-Shun Lee, Shi Bin Yang

Year: 2019

Runtime: 103 minutes


Cheltenham 2021

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