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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ilo Ilo
Ilo Ilo
Film Movement // Unrated // September 16, 2014
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted September 25, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie:

A true test for determining whether or not a film provides a universal emotional experience is to wonder if it would still work if it was made in any other country or about any other culture. From that perspective, the honest and heartfelt Ilo Ilo passes with flying colors. A simple yet powerful story about the friendship that develops between a Filipino maid and a Singaporean kid could have been executed about any culture and would have worked perfectly with minimal differences.

It's very easy to imagine this story remade (Although it certainly doesn't need to be, it's perfectly fine as it is) around a Latino maid taking care of an upper-middle class American kid. Even if it artificially pulled a few more heartstrings in order to appeal to more mainstream audiences in true Hollywood fashion, it still would not end up nowhere near as condescending and heavy-handed as The Help.

I could even imagine a comparable tale taking place in Turkey, since I had a similar experience with a woman who took care of me during my childhood years, although she was a close family friend and didn't take crap from anybody. She was always our "auntie" instead of our maid. In fact, I suspect that if anyone called her a maid, she would beat the snot out of him or her.

Upper-middle class Singaporean kid Teck's (Tianwen Chen) "auntie" is a Filipino woman named Terri (Angeli Bayani). It's the late 90s and the Asian economic crisis has hit Singapore as well as the surrounding countries.

It looks like a bad time to hire a nanny, but Teck's mother Hwee (Yann Yann Yeo) is pregnant and needs help with chores around the house. Most importantly however, she needs someone to keep Teck on a short leash, who's one of the most insufferable brats in his age group. Considering he's a ten-year-old boy and most ten-year-old boys are jerks by nature anyway, that's quite an accomplishment.

At first, Teck feels threatened by the presence of this strange foreign woman and uses any trick in the book to get her fired. He soon realizes that Terri's not as much of a pushover he thought she was and a mutual respect as well as admiration grows between the two polar opposites.

If this was a typical "opposites attract" Hollywood production, the child character would have been given a specific quirk that would have made him adorable to the audience, no matter how dysfunctional he acted.

In the case of Ilo Ilo, Teck is as goofy and immature as any typical kid his age and even though a loving relationship between Terri and him develops organically, he stays just as silly and brash. Their friendship is explored in as simple and honest a way possible and that's where its emotional power lies. Writer-director Anthony Chen's characters are instantly recognizable and relatable.

Through just his first feature, Chen shows an extraordinary grasp on instinctive visual style and natural performances. The performances all feel effortless and unforced. In a more Westernized approach to this story, the parents would have been portrayed as competent authority figures in complete control of their surroundings. In Ilo Ilo, Teck's parents themselves make some confoundingly stupid decisions as they become growingly desperate during the economic crisis. In the end, it's their inherent human flaws that bind them.

The DVD:

Video:

The DVD presentation of Ilo Ilo is as perfect as a standard definition transfer can get. This is a naturalistic film that strictly uses the native colors of its metropolitan locations. The loose documentary style of the camera work never becomes obnoxiously self-serving as it refuses to swerve into the all-too-easy "Shaky-cam means it's real" territory. Even though it doesn't offer a lush cinematography with bright colors that pop, it still would have been nice to get a Blu-Ray release of Ilo Ilo. Until then, the DVD is a perfectly rich visual alternative.

Audio:

Two lossy tracks are offered: 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. There's barely any non-diagetic music used in the film and the sound mix is very minimalistic. The dialogue is always clear and easy to hear. I couldn't find that much of a difference in mixing between the surround and stereo channels. One should be fine watching Ilo Ilo on their regular TV speakers. One annoying aspect is that there's only a single subtitle option, which also provides subtitles for the English lines as well as lines in Mandarin and Tagalog. Considering around forty percent of the film is in English, having another subtitle option that didn't display the lines in English would have been better.

Extras:

The Making-Of Ilo Ilo: A 24-minute featurette that covers the film's Cannes journey, where it won Camera D'Or last year, as well as interviews with the actors about their characters.

Blik: A cute 8-minute animated short about a kid falling in love with an older girl.

A Trailer for the film and Trailers for other Film Movement releases are also included.

Final Thoughts:

Based on Chen's own personal experiences with his maid, Ilo Ilo is a simple experience yet one that's emotionally rewarding. This little Singaporean drama is well worth a chance.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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