“Wet Season”, a TIFF 2019 Platform film, takes place during Singapore’s monsoon season, and writer/director Anthony Chen’s affecting movie is about a high school teacher named Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) who is struggling to have a baby. To make matters worse, Ling’s career and marriage are going nowhere. She feels quite alone but makes a connection with one of her students (Koh Jia Ler).
The Phoenix Film Festival had a chance to sit down with Anthony in Toronto, and we had an enjoyable, engaging conversation. We talked about Anthony’s inspiration for the movie, filming in the rain and much more!
PFF: The film shows Ling alone quite a bit. She lumbers to school on her own and usually eats by herself. This solitude is rather ironic, because she lives in Singapore, a bustling, busy metropolis. They say that we can be lonely while standing in a crowd. Ling seems to be going through this experience.
AC: I think you read it quite well. Sometimes, you are lonely, because you haven’t made connections. When there are so many things going on (in a big place), how could you feel lonely? But if you are not making emotional connections, you don’t exist.
PFF: Singapore is a picturesque place with plenty of urban wonders and natural beauty. The film does not focus on the bright, gorgeous surroundings and instead, spends time on everyday life in middle class neighborhoods and ordinary streets. Can you talk about that choice?
AC: Ling is under life pressures. She has a busy job as a teacher. She has to look after her half-paralyzed father-in-law who takes up so much time. (She doesn’t have) any form of social life, and she’s been trying really hard - for years - to have a baby.
That’s very much how I see her. She works during the day, comes home, changes her father-in-law’s clothes, cooks, feeds him, puts him to sleep, and does the dishes. Life has basically weighed her down, and there’s no time to have any other life. It’s not so much about not showing Singapore’s (beauty) but showing her life.
She is trapped, and she is stuck. She’s in crisis. She’s in crisis in her marriage. She’s in crisis in her family life. She’s in crisis in her career.
PFF: You’ve talked about your family’s challenges on having a baby. Did that experience inspire you to make this movie?
AC: Every time I make a film, at some point, “world-life” and my personal life will collide. For a long time, we had (to cope with fertility treatments) and go to the doctor all the time. It was very volatile. It was very stressful, and I experienced all of that first-hand. In a way, I started writing about this woman who was trying to have a baby, and somehow in my life, it sort of happened and collided.
After I made the film, (my wife and I had) a baby. We have a baby boy. Literally, just as I finished editing the film, he was born. I’m not a religious person, but I always believe that in filmmaking, there’s some kind of divine intervention.
PFF: Rain can obviously bring sorrow, but it can also wash away the past.
AC: I think you can see rain in different ways. Personally, for the longest time, I wanted to use weather elements in a film. In Singapore, we are a tropical country. We have no seasons. It’s always really, really hot, and the only time the weather changes – massively – is two months of rain during the monsoon season in December and January. Now, it’s drifting because of climate change. Sometimes, it starts in February.
I always thought rain (would be) poetic and beautiful to capture in a film. It’s a very appropriate metaphor to describe Ling’s emotional state. That’s one way of looking at it. In (the film), Singapore is completely shrouded in rain, and it’s sort of cold and a little bit heartless. I think that there’s something to be said about that. Singapore, over the past 10 years, has become a much colder place.
PFF: How did you work in the rain? Did you manufacture it?
AC: I (really enjoyed) writing the script, but when I had to film with 80 percent (of the scenes) calling for rain, the execution was tough. In this film, all the rain that you see (uses) practical effects. So, there isn’t a single (moment of) CGI. Of course, we couldn’t wait for the rain, so we had to create it. The movie feels like a very small, intimate drama, but actually, beyond that frame, there was so much work.
PFF: Ling takes care of her father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin), while her husband Andrew (Christopher Lee) usually can’t be bothered. Ling’s father-in-law can’t speak, but what would he say to his son?
AC: There is one scene with Ling’s husband and his father. He looks at his son, and in those eyes, you just knew that he was disappointed. That one scene says so much. I think this is a film where I try to say a lot with very little.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.