Chen effectively reflects on life’s ‘Wet Season’
Written and directed by: Anthony Chen
Starring: Yeo Yann Yann, Koh Jia Ler, Christopher Lee, and Yang Shi Bin
“Wet Season” – “I love walking in the rain, because no one can see me crying.” – Rowan Atkinson
Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) lives in Singapore - a vibrant, bustling place with over five million residents - but when this high school language teacher is not giving lectures and handing out assignments, she is often alone. Ling sits by herself at lunchtime and slowly lumbers in the hallways between periods, as if she’s carrying three students on her back while her shoes are filled with concrete.
She’s depressed. Not only because her students seem completely uninterested in learning Chinese, but the school does not prioritize it either.
Her life at home is no better, and actually, it’s worse, because her husband Andrew’s (Christopher Lee) constant indifference to her well-being feels infinitely more personal. He rarely spends time at home and seems more concerned with his golf game and entertaining clients into the wee hours of the evenings, rather than canoodling – or simply having polite conversation - with wife.
In life and love, Ling feels cheated and trapped, and to add insult to injury, she’s childless, despite trying to conceive for years. We also meet Ling during Singapore’s monsoon season, as the rain reflects her mood in writer/director Anthony Chen’s absorbing, affecting drama “Wet Season”.
Chen establishes the film’s tone right away through Ling’s melancholy, as she shuffles between home, school and her fertility doctor. Ling also cares for her elderly and incapacitated father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin) at home, so she never gets a break.
Yeo perfectly captures Ling’s fatigue, but the actress also gives her character an ever-present grace in the face of on-screen adversity. Both Chen and Yeo provide wide-open spaces of sympathy for Ling that allow us to emotionally connect with her straightaway and, therefore, hope that she forms any sort of new friendship to break her perpetual malaise.
Her student Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler) looks to be that person. Although his schoolwork floats in a shallow pool of mediocrity, Wei Lun is polite, curious and respectful, which is more positive energy than Ling has probably received in years. Ling usually keeps her emotions in check, because she’s unfortunately learned to blindly accept her current reality after nursing figurative wounds delivered by the Game of Life over the past four decades.
Over the course of the film, Ling’s leaps of personal growth are packaged in nuance, so a rare, slight smile from her becomes a moment of on-screen treasure, one that will warmly elicit beaming grins from the audience through tender cinematic reciprocity.
Many of Singapore’s trademark sights and sounds are anything but tender, as this astonishing city-state – that sits one degree above the equator - bursts with towering concrete wonders and gorgeous tropical beauty. Although Chen provides some scenes to capture this highly photogenic locale, he conveys Ling’s story within middle class neighborhoods and everyday life, as opposed to the pomp and circumstance of the larger scale surroundings. His decisions feel tonally on target, because hopes for massive celebrations are not within Ling’s immediate grasp.
It is, however, Singapore’s monsoon season. Rain certainly may bring sorrow and hide tears, but it can also wash away the past.
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.