Ilo Ilo tells the tale of a Singaporean middle-class family, who were fighting against all odds, trying to survive the financial crisis that plagued the whole of Asia in the late 1990s.
Teresa, the housemaid, struggled to get on the good side of Jiale, the neglected-troublemaking son of Teck and Hwee Leng, both of which were working long arduous hours to earn a living. The relationship between the two eventually blossomed into a beautiful one and this led to Hwee Leng to be succumbed by jealousy.
What interested me about Hwee Leng was how she was portrayed to be the dominant figure of the family. In Asian cultures, the man assumes the ‘leader’ role while the woman helps out with domestic work but Ilo Ilo seemed to take a different route. Teck, who was eventually fired and caused the family to lose lots of money in the stock market, was the more passive character.
Hwee Leng was definitely louder verbally and in terms of actions. The manner in which she punished her child shows that she was the one in charge. With the husband jobless, she was the sole breadwinner of the family. It is definitely refreshing to see the roles of women in film and cinema taking a different turn over the past years. As of late, some films represent women to be the dominant figure.
The sense of tension was also apparent throughout the film. With the family being constantly on edge due to the financial crisis, they could not afford to make a minor mistake which could potentially cost them financially. Being plagued by problems one after the other, I could not help but to sympathise the family a little.
Loosely based on director Anthony Chen’s life as a child, Ilo Ilo managed to capture the essence of the average Singaporean lives that were encapsulated by the struggles and hardships during the financial crisis. I have no recollection whatsoever of the events that transpired during the 1990s for I was just a youngling but Ilo Ilo somehow made me feel like I have lived through those years – experiencing tension and fear, but also sympathy.