63rd BFI London Film Festival: Wet Season Review

Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) is a Malaysian woman working as a Chinese school teacher in Singapore. Almost reaching 40, Ling and her husband Andrew (Christopher Lee) have been trying for a child for the past eight years without success. Their marriage is frayed to say the least. Desperate for a child, Ling sits in her car every morning outside work injecting painful IVF treatments into her abdomen and religiously follows her menstrual cycle in the hopes of getting pregnant. While her distant husband stays out late drinking with clients, misses Ling’s fertility appointments at the hospital, and refuses to even look at his wife. They share an apartment with Ling’s disabled father-in-law, who is primarily cared for by Ling. On top of her marital stresses and carer duties, Ling’s role as a teacher is constantly devalued by her students and colleagues alike – ‘it’s just Chinese’ as her headmaster puts it. Following up from his Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo, Anthony Chen’s Wet Season is a poetic yet slightly misled and predictable take on female isolation, loneliness, and misplaced attention.

Image result for wet season film

Photo © Wet Season 

Despite being ignored by almost everyone in her life, there’s one individual who seems sympathetic to Ling’s woes – her student, Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler), a naïve but seemingly sweet-natured 16-year-old boy obsessed with Jackie Chan and wushu. Noticing everyone in her class is failing miserably, Ling starts to offer extra afterschool group tutoring sessions. After a session or two, the attendance has dwindled down just to Wei Lun – the only student interested in improving his grades. Admiring his enthusiasm, Ling starts to privately tutor Wei Lun after school – after all, his parents want him to learn Chinese so he can grow up and do business in China. Wei Lun’s parents are always out of town for work– leaving him only a bottle of coke in the fridge – so Ling starts to drive Wei Lun home every day to save him from getting caught out in the torrential rain. Whether it be a maternal urge or concealed reprehensible attraction, Ling increasingly invites Wei Lun into her life to fill up the space that her idle husband has left. They chomp down on pieces of durian together after school, take Ling’s father-in-law for days out and Ling even attends Wei Lun’s wushu competition in the place of his parents. Wei Lun and Ling’s relationship does not start out fuelled by romance – if it was, Ling certainly didn’t realise. Chen draws out a messy, noxious relationship of two disillusioned individuals searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

wet season main pic

Photo © Wet Season

Wet Season is technically, an astonishing film. It’s shot beautifully, scenes always shadowed by the constant drumming of the rain of Singapore’s monsoon season (impressively, the film wasn’t filmed during the wet season at all) and lead by a fantastic Yeo Yann Yann as a distressed woman pushed to her limits. However, its story feels a bit thin. Notably surrounded by an interesting context and with a good character study of Ling, the plot feels foreseeable at times and rather flimsy in its critique of life for women in Singapore. Wet Season clumsily handles issues such as rape; never truly acknowledging the sequence as rape in itself and almost justifying the act as the victim eventually consents. This predatory character is then paraded around as an annoying but somewhat harmless and funny individual – which is pretty painful for an audience to bear witness to and defeats the purpose of critiquing how Singaporean society treats women.

Image result for wet season film

Photo © Wet Season 

Wet Season does have its sensitive moments and Chen undeniably fills the film with a lot of empathy for Ling and her claustrophobic situation. There are some incredibly sweet moments between Ling and her father-in-law, which gives us a tragic glimpse into how the only person Ling connects within this world is an old man almost on his deathbed. Wet Season aims to be a story of entrapment, empowerment and freedom, and in some ways, it gets close to this. However, the main plotline feels monotonous at times and the film fumbles in what it’s trying to say with its critique. 

Rating:  Image result for three and a half stars

Written by Abi Aherne

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