Remember Ilo Ilo director Anthony Chen? Here's what he's been up to recently

29 May 2016 / 5 months 1 day ago

Joanne Soh
The New Paper
28 May 2016

His future movies will never top the success of his award-winning 2013 debut Ilo Ilo.

Anthony Chen stated that matter-of-factly when he spoke to The New Paper yesterday.

The London-based Singaporean film-maker was in town to promote his latest project Distance, an omnibus film that features contributions by three young directors, Xin Yukun, Tan Shijie and Sivaroj Kongsakul, from China, Singapore and Thailand respectively.

The three stories all star Taiwanese actor Chen Bolin and deal with different aspects of the central theme of distance.

Chen, 32, was executive producer of the film and had "free rein" to do whatever he wanted, as long as it met censorship requirements in China.

Distance, which is rated PG13 and opens here on June 2, is predominantly funded by Chinese investors.

"When (they) approached me to do a film, I told them that in no way would it be as successful as Ilo Ilo," said Chen.

"They knew they wouldn't get back their investment, yet they still pumped in money... That showed how much they believed in it and that took the pressure off."

Ilo Ilo became a milestone for Singapore cinema in 2013 when it bagged a string of international awards, including the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and four Golden Horse Awards for Best Film, Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Yeo Yann Yann).

Ilo Ilo also grossed over $1.2 million at the local box office.

"I don't have any expectations for Distance as it is not a commercial film," said Chen. "I believe that good films will always find their audience."

He said that when he planned Ilo Ilo, people told him the film would not make it.

"Who wants to watch a movie about a maid and a boy? They also told me that the story was not controversial or sexy, even for film festivals."

When asked if he ever feared he would be viewed as a one-hit wonder, Chen admitted there was pressure to deliver initially and that the media in Hong Kong and Taiwan kept asking him what his Ilo Ilo follow-up would be.

"Thankfully, there wasn't much pressure here!"


After completing Distance's publicity campaign here, he will return to Thailand to continue working on fellow Singaporean Kirsten Tan's feature film debut Popeye, which is produced by Chen's film company Giraffe Pictures.

Chen is also working on "some book adaptations back home in London" and is in the midst of finalising the story for his second directorial effort. He hopes to start production at the end of the year.

Said Chen: "Film-making is not about winning awards and making money. I just want to make films with good stories and stay true to myself and not be a sell-out."

Distance premiered at the 52nd Golden Horse Film Festival in November last year and was released in China and Taiwan this month.

Reception was lukewarm in both countries, something Chen said he had expected as it is an anthology.

He added that moviegoers in China and Taiwan had different reactions.

"China loved the first story, which explored the estranged relationship between a father and son.

"They really hated the third story. They just couldn't accept the plot of a younger man in a relationship with an older woman," said Chen.

It was the complete opposite in Taiwan, as "the audiences did not see anything wrong with that story".

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