A teacher and student at a Singapore high school form a special, self-affirming bond in writer-director Anthony Chen’s (Ilo Ilo) highly anticipated second feature.
With his highly anticipated follow-up to his Camera d'Or–winning feature debut, TIFF '13 favourite Ilo Ilo, Singaporean writer-director Anthony Chen has crafted a double character study of uncommon delicacy.
Malaysia-born Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) teaches Mandarin at a Singapore high school where her subject is regarded as low priority. Ling's home life offers scant consolation: for eight years, she and her husband have been trying to conceive a child, and the process has eroded much of the tenderness they once shared. What's more, with her husband increasingly out of the house at all hours, Ling is left on her own to care for her ailing father-in-law.
An unexpected source of alleviation arrives in Ling's friendship with Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler), the only student in her class to show real interest. Like Ling, Wei Lun feels neglected at home and, though he participates in competitive Wushu, he seems alienated by kids his own age. Wei Lun's youthful enthusiasm — accompanied by what appears to be an endearing crush — helps Ling weather a seemingly endless torrent of frustrations and disappointments, but the time will come when even this alliance will reach its inevitable limit.
With his elegant, unobtrusive camerawork and fluid storytelling, Chen leaves ample room for his actors to explore their characters' wide-ranging emotions. Yeo and Koh, both of whom starred in Ilo Ilo, give brave performances that shadow each step in this story of two souls coming together, however briefly, on their respective journeys toward hard-won self-actualization.