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Interview: Anthony Chen & Yann Yann Yeo – Wet Season

Hot news from PYIFF, Singapore’s Wet Season takes home a whopping three awards, including the Cinephilia Critics’ Award, and two Fei Mu Awards for Best Film and Best Actress. Filmmaker Anthony Chen is no stranger to accolades: his debut feature Ilo Ilo was selected for the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes and took home the Camera d’Or award for Best Debut Film. This week in Pingyao, I had the chance to chat with Chen and award-winning lead actor Yann Yann Yeo to discuss the their excellent second film together. Mild spoilers follow.

Wet Season is a master-class in sensitivity, restraint and precision. The film follows Ling, a native Malaysian who dedicates days to teaching prep school boys and nights to family concerns. Beset by a lack of respect from students and faculty (she teaches Chinese, not math or science) plus an absentee husband who doesn’t help her get pregnant, she tends her ailing father-in-law: the closest thing she has to a child of her own. That is, until a forbidden relationship blossoms with her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed student, Wei Lun (Jia Ler Koh).

Wet Season is a thoughtfully-crafted exploration of culture and character. Beyond gender roles, this film tackles modernity, nationalism, class, and economic imbalance. Yeo is dignified and resilient as Ling, and her struggle is universal: a stand-in for mothers and teachers across the world who sacrifice themselves to nurture the next generation. Her own wish-fulfillment is often quashed by the immature males – both boys and adults – whom she tries so hard to help. Luckily, the film isn’t all rain and gloom; Ling’s story reminds us that if we weather the storm, the sun will eventually peek through the clouds.

In our interview, we discuss Chen and Yeo’s collaborations: specifically, how they built such an emotionally resonant character in Ling, and how Yeo transitioned into a romantic relationship with her former onscreen son from Ilo Ilo (Jia Ler Koh). The casting wasn’t pre-meditated; Chen reveals how the grown-up Koh suddenly struck him as an ideal romantic lead. Plus, we talk Wet Season’s suffused cinematic language; the film’s social criticism-subtext; and the absurd number of takes it took to get the final shot right.

Dylan Kai Dempsey is a New York-based writer/filmmaker. His reviews have been published in Vanity Fair, Variety, No Film School, and He’s also developing a graphic novel as well as his own award-winning pilot script, #Likes4Lucas. He began as a development intern at Bonafide Productions in L.A. and Rainmark Productions in London.

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