Wet Season 热带雨 (2019) Review

Any trace of a sophomore slump is barely an issue for the acclaimed Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, his first film in six years since 2013’s impressive feature-length directorial debut in Ilo Ilo. Whereas his previous movie was more of a poignant and feel-good dramedy, Wet Season marks a significant departure for Anthony Chen — a slow-burn drama that is both restrained in its overall storytelling and acting departments.

The movie tells a story about the forbidden affair between a Mandarin-language teacher Ling (Yeo Yann Yann) and one of her students, Wei Lun (Koh Jia Ler). But before Anthony Chen — who also responsible for writing the screenplay — takes his time to get to the point, opting for a deliberate approach that details the unlikely bond between Ling and Wei Lun.

For the former, Ling has her own personal issue, where she’s been struggling to have a baby with her busy husband (Christopher Lee’s Andrew) for years. Her home life is just as depressing, as she spends most of her time taking care of her wheelchair-bound father-in-law (Yang Shi Bin). Then along came Wei Lun, who’s been developing a feeling for her during the remedial Mandarin classes.

A slow-burn drama can easily make or break an entire film. But writer-director Anthony Chen has again proved his worth as a remarkable filmmaker in Wet Season, whose thoughtful direction helps to make his movie all the more absorbing. His slow, yet incredibly patient build-up on Ling and Wei Lun’s initial bond as teacher and student before their eventual tryst later in the movie is all meticulously paced. Even the movie’s otherwise slice-of-life moments that focus on Ling’s mundane lifestyle is just as nuanced.

The movie also benefits from a superb cast all around, notably Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler who both reunite for the second time after Ilo Ilo. Yeo Yann Yann, who earned a well-deserved Golden Horse Award win for Best Actress, delivers a perfectly restrained and sympathetic turn as the emotionally-reserved Ling. She pairs well with Koh Jia Ler, whose impressive supporting turn as Wei Lun continues to showcase his acting talent after his promising debut in Ilo Ilo.

As for the rest, Christopher Lee made quite an impression as Ling’s seemingly workaholic husband, Andrew while theatre veteran Yang Shi Bin shows excellent pathos and expressive body languages in his non-speaking small turn as Ling’s immobile father-in-law who spends most of his time either confined in a wheelchair or bed.

Wet Season is a triumph in its technical department as well, beginning with Sam Care’s atmospheric cinematography that captured the movie’s sombre and depressing tones. The movie also made great use of the seemingly unstoppable rain during the monsoon season in Singapore — a perfect tool for creating numerous metaphors both literally and figuratively, particularly the one where it reflects Ling’s estranged life.

Beyond its central taboo issue involving Ling and Wei Lun’s forbidden relationship, Chen also manages to find ways of slipping in brief but effective social commentaries from Singapore’s education system towards Mandarin language to the stark contrast between the lives in the island city and Malaysia’s political crisis, which can be evidently seen during the TV news sequences in the background.

Although Anthony Chen does an overall great job in Wet Season, the only time that he somehow stumbles is the conventional third-act, using an easy way out to conveniently wrapped up Ling and Wei Lun’s otherwise complex relationship beyond a teacher and a student. Still, it was more of a minor misstep as Wet Season remains a top-notch sophomore directorial effort for Anthony Chen as well as another memorable turn from both Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler.