Following his feature film debut, Ilo Ilo, it took Anthony Chen six long years before he returned to the cinematic stage. And without question, Wet Season is certainly a welcome return to the world of cinema for one of Asia’s most talented young filmmakers.
Set in the midst of Singapore’s rainy season, the film centres on an elementary school teacher (Yeo Yann Yann), who forms a seemingly innocent relationship with one of her witty students (Koh Jia Ler). And as the seasons change, so does their affection for one another. The film essentially capitalizes on this unique bond formed between teacher and student and takes a deep dive into both the social and emotional norms that dictate our actions.
A nuanced examination of loneliness
What makes Wet Season such a memorable film is Chen’s decision to double down on examining the intricacies of one’s emotions in their pursuit of human connection and happiness. In a sense, it’s also one of the most affecting portrayals of loneliness in recent memory. Whether you agree or disagree with the relationship that eventually forms between this teacher and student duo, it’s hard not to be moved by their affectionate gestures that aim to mend their empty hearts. The emotions ascribed by the narrative are far from simple, and Chen really forces his audience to examine them with an open mind.
It’s easy to judge the relationship for what it is on the surface, but that would be doing the film a great disservice. While the relationship in question certainly crosses a line of moral ambiguity, Chen never chastises the film’s characters, and instead, presents the romance in a rather passive way. By juxtaposing the relationship with a young boy’s blossoming – and subsequent loss of – innocence, the narrative also presents loneliness as a rite of passage that can also circle back later on in life. This picture is further superimposed with the cyclical nature of seasons, and the almost tongue-in-cheek release of rain when wet season eventually comes along.
No shortage of impressive performances
Credit must also be given to the two leading performers, who reunite after an equally impressive outing in 2013’s Ilo Ilo. It’s interesting that the two played mother and son in their last film together, as that surely helped add buoyancy to their current collaboration. There’s something natural about the way Yeo and Koh interact with each other, which really helps ground the film when the story starts shifting in a more dramatic direction. I would even argue that the relationship only works because of this unspoken bond that the two performers seem to share. This is perhaps shaped by my own knowledge of their work in Ilo Ilo, and appreciating how their onscreen chemistry has matured.
And while the main relationship of the film certainly takes centre stage, the supporting players are also utilized in a beautiful way. The husband (Christopher Lee) and father-in-law (Yang Shi-Bin) characters, specifically, form direct and indirect bonds with both of the main characters and end up offering some hard-hitting emotional notes throughout the film. Some of the more unique customs within Asian culture are also explored through these character interactions, with the narrative leaning very close to the tension drawn from the dynamics of familiar responsibilities. In the end, there’s no questioning that Wet Season is all about relationships, both big and small, in all its different forms.
Anthony Chen doesn’t make movies nearly as often as he should, and his first two films should be more than enough evidence that this statement is absolutely correct. Similar to Ilo Ilo, Wet Season doesn’t shy away from exploring very rich and complex emotional story arcs. More importantly, there’s also a sense that Chen is capturing the thoughts and feelings of Singapore culture in some way, even if a foreign viewer might not be able to catch all these hidden subtleties. Not being a Singapore native myself, I first learned of these intricacies during Q+A sessions for the film’s initial festival run back in 2019. There’s certainly a lot to unpack in a film like Wet Season, and it’s something that will surely stick with you for a very long time. Here’s hoping Chen‘s next film isn’t another 6 years away.
Wet Season is currently not available for streaming in North America. Home video options are available on YesAsia.com.
Watch Wet Season
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