Ilo Ilo
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MSPIFF 2014 Official Selection

Friday, May 16 thru Thursday, May 22

Set in Singapore during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Ilo Ilo chronicles the day-to-day drama of the Lim family - troublesome grade-schooler Jiale and his overstressed parents, Heck and Leng. Comfortably middleclass and with another baby on the way, they hire Teresa, a Filipino immigrant, as a live-in maid and nanny. An outsider in both the family and Singapore itself, Teresa initially struggles to manage Jiale's antics and find her footing in her new community. The two eventually form a unique bond, but just as Teresa becomes an unspoken part of the family, unforeseen circumstances in an uncertain economy will challenge the new normal yet again.


When I was much younger, my mother hired a Filipino maid to look after the children. Teresa was with us for a long 8 years until I was 12 years old. We called her Auntie Terry. When she left to return home, it was hard to bear, but we got used to her absence and somehow lost contact. The one thing that has stayed with me after all these years is the name of the place she was from, Iloilo, a province in the Philippines. That is how the title of the film came about.

My experience is probably similar to many other kids in Singapore and in the region, where hardworking parents spend their days at work, leaving the young ones in the hands of a hired stranger. In this case, having a maid is not a luxury of the bourgeoisie but a need for practical reasons.

There have not been many films made on the subject of such maids, at least not in Singapore. Yet more often than not, what the media portrays is usually of a negative kind – controversies of abuse concerning domestic helpers, where either the victims are the children they care for, or the maids become the victims of employers. What one forgets is that an entire generation of children has grown up in the hands of maids. This is more true today with most families having both parents working full-time.

I believe the universal experience of children growing up with maids is one of having a “surrogate” mother, a friend and a confidant. What is intriguing and never brought to light is the emotional inter-relations created, nurtured, cherished, and yet brutally taken away when circumstances change.

Ilo Ilo is inspired by my childhood - through vignettes and moments of the people close to me, particularly their mannerisms and words that have stuck in my head. All this set during a particular period in Singapore. I am grateful that for my first feature, I have the opportunity to make a film that begins at home.

DIRECTOR’S Biography

Anthony Chen

Born in 1984 in Singapore, Anthony Chen enrolled in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies at the age of 17 to pursue his passion for filmmaking. He graduated from film school with his graduation film, G-23 which screened at multiple festivals worldwide and won awards in Europe and Asia. His second short film, Ah Ma (Grandma), was nominated for the Palme d’Or for Short Film at the 60th Cannes Film Festival, and was awarded a Special Mention, the first time a Singaporean film was awarded in Cannes. Haze (2008), his next short screened in competition at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival.

Collectively, his shorts have screened at numerous prestigious film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Rotterdam, Pusan, London, Sao Paulo, Stockholm, Sydney, Montreal, Melbourne, Chicago, Hawaii, etc. Anthony is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talent Campus and Golden Horse Film Academy.

In 2009, he was accorded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council of Singapore. In 2010, he completed his Masters in Film Directing at the National Film and Television School, UK with a scholarship from the Media Development Authority of Singapore. Anthony now works between London and Singapore. Ilo Ilo marks his feature film debut.