Wet Season (热带雨, Anthony Chen, 2019)

West season posterA middle-aged woman and teenage boy meet at opposite ends of loneliness only for their frustrated connection to end in a destructive act of misplaced desires in Anthony Chen’s acutely observed melodrama, Wet Season (热带雨, Rèdài Yù). Reuniting with Ilo Ilo’s Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler, Chen spins a differing tale of fracturing families as his heroine, a perpetual outsider, finds escape in simulacrum but fails to realise the implications of her attempt to nurture a lonely child.

A Mandarin teacher at a local high school, Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) has been undergoing intensive IVF treatment with her emotionally distant husband, Andrew (Christopher Lee Meng Soon), for the last eight years. Repeated disappointments have placed a strain on their relationship and it seems to Ling that Andrew has already given up, rarely coming with her to the clinic and drawing away from her physically and emotionally. Though they have a housekeeper to help during the day, Ling is also the primary carer for Andrew’s bedridden father (Yang Shi Bin) who, despite his kindness and inability to communicate directly, displays only contempt for his son’s continuing moral cowardice.

Unappreciated at home, Ling fares little better in her professional life. It’s clear that no-one takes Chinese language terribly seriously as an academic subject and she remains isolated at school as a Malaysian Mandarin speaker in a largely Anglophone environment with a rather old-fashioned colonial perspective that English is the only useful language. She tries her best to teach her disinterested students, but finds them uncooperative save one young boy, Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler), who develops a sudden interest in Chinese after imprinting on Ling when she offers to drive him home after running into him at the hospital and discovering no one was coming to fetch him.

Wei Lun’s parents are of the absentee kind, but apparently very keen that he do well in Chinese so he can eventually do business in China. The only student to turn up for remedial classes, Wei Lun starts getting a lot of individual attention, something that arouses the suspicion of a nosy neighbour in his apartment building who also happens to be a chemistry teacher at the school. The pair grow closer with Ling introducing him to her father-in-law who also takes to the boy, allowing him to fill a painful absence at the family table as the son and grandson they never had while he gains the loving attention of a devoted family ready to support him and celebrate his successes.

Yet brought together by shared loneliness, there’s an essential conflict in their differing desires as Ling remains, perhaps wilfully, oblivious to Wei Lun’s obvious crush which runs to something awkwardly maternal and deeper than your average teenage fixation on a sympathetic teacher. As the storms intensify, they seem set on a destructive collision course, approaching the same problem from opposite sides of an unbridgeable divide.

Battling her internalised sense of failure as a wife and mother in her inability to bear a child along with her professional irrelevance as a teacher of “unnecessary” Chinese, Ling finds validation in Wei Lun’s obvious need, allowing herself to feel “wanted” but perhaps misinterpreting that desire in Wei Lun’s adolescent confusion in which the familial and the romantic become hopelessly blurred. Momentary lapse aside, Ling remains essentially maternal, hoping to comfort Wei Lun as he endures his first heartbreak. “My heart hurts”, he tells her, “That’s how it is” she explains to him sadly, “you’ll get used it”.

Stormy weather and reports of civil unrest in Malaysia as an embittered populace rises up against state corruption echo Ling’s sense of anxious hopelessness as she attempts to find accommodation with life’s disappointments, her imploding marriage, and the impossibility of escape. For her at least the storm clouds eventually lift and the rainy season comes to an end giving way to a brighter future and a new start born of the total destruction of the old. Chen’s tale of misplaced desires and ill-defined relationships may be an overfamiliar one, but handled with care and universal empathy. Refusing judgment, Chen’s camera observes its fragile protagonists as they seek escape from their pain and loneliness through the illusion of connection while the storm inside intensifies. Having endured the rains, Ling rediscovers the light, claiming her right to happiness and leaving the wet season far behind.


Wet Season was screened as part of the 2019 BFI London Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Fall in Love at First Kiss (一吻定情, Frankie Chen, 2019)

Fall in love at first kiss poster 2Our Times’ Frankie Chen Yu-Shan returns to the tricky world of high school romance with an adaptation of the perennially popular ‘90s manga, Itazurana Kiss. Fall in Love at First Kiss (一吻定情, Yī Wěn Dìngqíng) is in fact the third time the manga has been adapted in Taiwan following a hit 2005 TV drama and a remake in 2016. Updated for the present day, Chen’s adaptation retains the manga’s trademark zany humour and often questionable approach to romance but imbues it with characteristic warmth and mild social commentary.

Our heroine, Xiangqin (Jelly Lin Yun), falls hopelessly in love with high school superstar Jiang Zhishu (Darren Wang Talu) when she accidentally trips and kisses him on her first day. Zhishu is, however, somewhat untouchable to a Class F no hoper like Xiangqin – Class A students like him have their very own building inaccessible to those without the proper credentials. Despite outsmarting the system in order to hand him her letter of confession, Xiangqin is cruelly rejected with a video of Zhishu’s cool response going viral among her friends. However, when Xiangqin’s house is demolished thanks to an extremely localised earthquake, she finds herself moving into Zhishu’s family home (it turns out their dads are old friends) where she might perhaps be able to get to know him better.

Like the original manga, Fall in Love at First Kiss revolves around Xiangqin’s lovelorn existence as she becomes increasingly obsessed with her apparently unrequited love for the sullen Zhishu whose behaviour is often hard to read. Zhishu’s mother (Christy Chung), a highlight of any adaptation, is a woman much like Xiangqin which is to say extremely cute and cheerful. Having long wanted a daughter she is delighted to have Xiangqin move in with the family and is virtually painting a nursery in the hope that Xiangqin and Zhishu might one day end up together. This is however partly because she knows both her sons are objectively awful – a pair of self-centred, emotionless hyper rationalists and overachievers who might be popular thanks to their successes but have few friends owing to not being very nice. She hopes some of Xiangqin’s unsophisticated cheerfulness might help open them up to the pleasures of being alive.

Zhishu, however, blows hot and cold. He ignores Xiangqin’s attentions until the point she vows to move on, at which time he kisses her to prove that despite everything he is still the sun in her mad little solar system. This is obviously not a very healthy relationship dynamic even as it insists that Zhishu’s arrogance is part of his “cool” rather than a symptom of his insecurity. Even his final declaration of love is shot through with “you know you want me” logic rather than a heartfelt explanation of his reasoning for having been so cavalier Xiangqin’s feelings. Nevertheless, like every other “difficult” romantic hero, we eventually discover that Zhishu is just awkward rather than actually cruel as he finds himself continually conflicted in wanting to be nice to people but somehow thinking it would be inappropriate to do so.

This is largely because he and his brother are snobbish elitists who’ve been led to believe that social inequality is the proper order of things. Xiangqin, a proud Class F sort of girl, wants to show him that they are all “on the same page”, equals despite what the “rankings” might say. Nevertheless she does this in a rather odd way by remaining deferent to his supposedly admirable qualities and following him around despite his constant rejections. In any case, Zhishu’s class conflict is at the heart of his emotional repression as he struggles with his filial duty to inherit his father’s company when what he’d really like to do is become a doctor to be able to help people – a choice he doesn’t quite feel he has the freedom to make and one which feels too warm and fuzzy for the ultra-capitalist, success at all costs philosophy he seems to have been brought up with by everyone except his cheerful mother. 

Sadly Zhishu does not undergo much of a humbling and remains annoyingly successful and prince-like, while Xiaoqing does not suddenly discover her own worth or another purpose in life, but they do perhaps begin to find happiness in acknowledging their fated connection. Chen keeps the increasingly absurd action grounded as time moves on at frantic pace from high school first love to awkward grown up confession but manages to find the sweetness in a sometimes problematic romance as her lovestruck heroine does not much of anything at all other than remain true to herself in order to win her man.


Currently on limited release in UK cinemas.

Original trailer (English subtitles)