Sunday 15 September 2013

My 5 excuses for not watching Ilo Ilo

I’m sorry.

Yes, I’m apologising again.

And it’s not for mistaking Quah Kim Song for Ms Sylvia Lim’s mother last month.

I’m apologising for not going to see the local movie Ilo Ilo.

I mean, it’s understandable if you don’t want to watch Justice Devil starring Ris “boomz goes her weight” Low.

But Ilo Ilo is the movie that critics have been falling all over themselves to praise after the Anthony Chen film won the Camera d’Or for the best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival in May, probably the highest honour a Singapore movie has ever received. (Though I’ve never heard of the Camera d’Or before. Have you?)

According to the movie poster (which makes Ilo Ilo look like a Jack Neo-style slapstick comedy that it’s decidedly not), the Hollywood trade mag Variety said Ilo Ilo is “brimming with love, humour and heartbreak”.

The Straits Times called it a “heartland tale from the heart”. The Business Times put Ilo Ilo on “top of the heap because it has the most heart and cinematic flair”.

All right, I get it. The movie has a lot of heart. But disappointingly, no twerking.

Ilo Ilo, about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family, has also been selected as Singapore’s entry in the Best Foreign Language category of the Academy Awards next year. So watch out, Yuya Ishii of Japan!

On Wednesday, The Straits Times ran a big story about how Ilo Ilo has grossed only $500,000 after two weeks at the box office. This is less than the $700,000 the movie was made for. The headline asks: “Where is the audience?

For some reason, I felt like I was being scolded for not seeing the movie.

“Where’s your patriotism? Why aren’t you supporting our local film-maker? Don’t you know the film received a 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes? How can foreigners appreciate a Singapore film more than Singaporeans do? Don’t come crying to us when all you get is Ah Boys To Men sequels!”

Now I feel guilty for watching Percy Jackson And The Sea Of Monsters last week. It didn’t win anything at Cannes at all.

I’m not proud to admit that I’m one of the many Singaporeans who are biased against local productions.

This is a little ironic considering I have been involved in a few local productions on TV as well as the ill-fated Phua Chu Kang movie.

So I know how dispiriting it is to work so hard on a show, only to have it dismissed or rejected simply because it’s “local”.

Yet, I still can’t bring myself to watch Ilo Ilo.

Here are my five excuses for not seeing the movie:


The title is not very relatable to Singaporeans.

When I first saw the title, I thought Ilo Ilo was the Japanese version of the old British TV sitcom ’Allo ’Allo.

Also, is it pronounced “Eye-lo Eye-lo” or “Ee-lo Ee-lo”?

I’m afraid to buy a ticket to see the movie in case the ticket seller laughs at me for mispronouncing the title. I’m very sensitive.

I blame Kelvin Tong. If the director hadn’t already taken the title The Maid for his 2005 horror flick, Chen’s film could’ve sold a few more tickets.


The trailer is kind of depressing.


It’s about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family.

Wasn’t there already a local movie about the same thing called The Maid?

So once again, it’s Tong’s fault.

Whereas Singaporeans can’t seem to get enough of local movies about the army and/or ghosts, I believe that once you’ve seen one local movie about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family, you’ve seen them all.

Actually, I’ve never seen The Maid.


I am also not planning to see the other big award winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, a French movie about lesbians.

And if I’m not interested in seeing a Palme d’Or-winning movie about French lesbians, I’m even less inclined to see a Camera d’Or-winning movie about a Filipino maid working for a Singapore family.

At least I’m consistent in my non-watching of Cannes award winners.


Unlike the critics raving about Ilo Ilo, I actually have to pay to see it.

But honestly, I wouldn’t watch it even if it’s free. Which it will be when Ilo Ilo is shown on TV a couple of years from now.

Also, Ilo Ilo doesn’t seem to need my money. According to The Straits Times report, if the movie doesn’t earn enough in Singapore, it could still make money elsewhere.

Anyway, I think director Chen will do just fine even if Ilo Ilo fails to break even. He can dine out on the Cannes award alone for years to come.

And that’s more than I can say for myself after the PCK movie was released in 2010. I still haven’t seen it and people are still demanding that I apologise for writing the script.

I’m sorry.

(By the way, Ilo Ilo is the name of a place in the Philippines and is pronounced “Ee-lo Ee-lo”.)

- Published in The New Paper, 15 September 2013