Hit home movie

Hit home movie

Young Post talks to Golden Horse Awards star, Singaporean director Anthony Chen

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Ilo Ilo Cover_L
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Singaporean director Anthony Chen could not have enjoyed a more successful year. At the age of 29, his feature film debut, Ilo Ilo - about the relationship between a family of three and their Filipino domestic helper - has won a host of international awards.

Ilo Ilo was the first Singaporean film to win the prestigious Camera d'Or award at this summer's Cannes Film Festival, in France. Last weekend, it was named Best Film, and Chen won Best Screenplay and Best New Director honours at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards.

"The film has won so many awards; it's a really big surprise," Chen says. "I was not expecting all this when I was making the film."

He is also delighted that, after 16 years, the film helped him to re-establish contact with Teresa, his family's real-life Filipino domestic helper. She worked for his family when he was a child - and served as the inspiration for his film.

"My family hired a maid before I was 12," Chen says. "Like the real Teresa, in my film she is called Teresa and comes from the same province of Iloilo, in the Philippines. She spent eight years working for us.

"The experience inspired me to write this story for my film. But what happens in the story isn't really autobiographical. We added dramatic parts to make the film work better."

Ilo Ilo focuses on the growing friendship between Teresa and the - initially - badly behaved 10-year-old boy, Jiale, after she is hired to take care of him by his stressed parents.

"The key difference between my childhood and the film is that I wasn't naughty like Jiale," Chen says. "I was well-behaved - a good example of my country's education system, which focuses a lot on discipline."

Chen was 15 when he became determined to work in the film industry. At 17, he enrolled at Singapore's Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies. Later he moved to London, where he met his wife, to take a postgraduate course at Britain's National Film and Television School.


Chen with Ilo Ilo's cast members at the Golden Horse Awards Photo: Xinhua

For his feature debut, following work on short films, he interviewed other domestic workers to provide different perspectives to his story, rather than focusing only on memories from his childhood.

"The character of Teresa in my film has real hopes and fears," he says. "I tried to make her well rounded and realistic - someone with flaws, too."

"This is possibly one of the first times in a film, or on TV, that a domestic worker has a 'real' voice."

The film attracted lots of interest in the Philippines. Local media were keen to trace the real-life Teresa.

"I thought it would be too difficult," Chen says. "All I knew was her first name was Teresa and she came from Iloilo; I didn't know her last name.

"The media contacted me, and I gave them old photographs of me with 'Auntie' Teresa. They searched using television, radio and newspapers."

After only two weeks, Teresa was found - still living in Iloilo - in a hut with no television or telephone. "It's amazing to find her in such a huge country of about 90 million people."

Chen visited Teresa at her home. "It was very unreal and emotional to meet her again," he says. "She looked quite different from how she looked in the photos from 16 years ago.

"The film has proved to be a really interesting journey."

Chen, who brought Teresa to Singapore to attend the film premiere of Ilo Ilo, said Iloilo was among the many areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The storm, which struck the country earlier this month, killed more than 5,500 people.

"Her home area was hit by the typhoon," Chen says.

"I contacted a friend in the Philippines as Teresa has no phone. But luckily, he found her and she was safe and well."



You might also like:

- Set in 1997 in Singapore, Ilo Ilo follows the story of the relationship of a young boy and his family with their domestic helper, and the struggles they face together during difficult times.

- Karen Mok is more than just a natural beauty, she’s a home-grown talent whose radiant smile and personality and hard-working ethics is famous internationally. She’s also a Young Post alum!

- 16-year-old screenwriter Jeremy Lin could be on his way to becoming as famous as the NBA star: his script for the film Senior Project is currently being made in Hollywood

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