After two weeks at the box office, Anthony Chen's award-winning drama Ilo Ilo has grossed $500,000 in Singapore. It seems like a respectable figure for a mid-sized release of 15 prints. A spokesman for exhibitor Golden Village had earlier estimated that the film could collect $500,000 by the end of its run, but the figure has been reached in its second week.
The movie is likely to continue its run for at least another two weeks, reports The Straits Times. But the sad truth is that even a much feted film such as Ilo Ilo, which won the Camera d'Or for the best first feature film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, is not going to break even anytime soon.
The movie was made on a $700,000 budget and the rule of thumb in the movie industry is that a movie needs to make three times its production budget in order to turn a profit, given other costs such as marketing and promotion.
This means that Ilo Ilo, about a Singapore family's experience during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and its relationship with a Filipino maid, has to make about $2 million to break even. What does this state of box-office affairs say about the movie tastes of local audiences?
Chen's alma mater, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, invested $200,000 in the film, and the director of the institution's School of Film & Media Studies Anita Kuan says: "I'm tempted to say we're all actually low class people underneath a high class veneer, myself included of course.
With so much stress in an increasingly complex world, all we want is a good laugh and to be entertained." However, it does not mean that films such as Ilo Ilo should just throw in the towel. She adds: "There is also a segment of society that appreciates well-crafted stories told sensitively. There is a time and place for deeper reflection. And like any good store, there must be such products to satiate this demand."
Director Yeo Chun Cheng says box-office takings is not the only measure of a film's success. "In Ilo Ilo's case, the film put local cinema on the global film map; gave Singaporeans something to cheer about; and the director, Anthony Chen, himself inspired a generation of Singapore film-makers with his craft and dedication."
Ms Kuan, noting that the historic Cannes win, which is the highest film honour won by a Singapore film, was not just Ngee Ann Polytechnic's but also Singapore's gain, adds: "In terms of non-financial returns, Ngee Ann Polytechnic has already gained much."
As for financial returns, the film has been sold in more than 20 countries to date. "So I dare say NP will likely recoup something," Miss Kuan adds. Ilo Ilo was also partly funded by the Singapore Film Commission's now-defunct New Feature Film Fund.
Clover Films managing director Lim Teck, 38, says that the local box office does not tell the whole story. "In the movie business, we can't just look at one territory's box office, especially when we are all going regional." Ilo Ilo has been sold to North America, France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal , Turkey, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
It opened in France on Sept 4 in 80 cinemas and made it to No. 5 in Paris on the box office chart. Producer Yuni Hadi does not not have the box-office figures for France. But during the film's premiere at Cannes in May, the prestigious newspaper Le Monde had said the movie "recounts with infinite justice a family crisis amid a social crisis".