Ilo Ilo is Singapore entry to Oscars

SINGAPORE - Film-maker Anthony Chen has two more reasons to celebrate. After winning the prestigious Camera d' Or at Cannes Film Festival in May, his film Ilo Ilo earned a healthy $210,000 in its opening weekend here and has been selected as Singapore's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars next year.

Chen, 29, tells Life!: "I'm happy that the film continues to fly the flag for Singapore."

The film is about the relationship between a maid and the Singapore family she works for.

A Singapore Film Commission advisory committee chose it for the Oscars.

The director of the commission, Mr Yeo Chun Cheng, says that Ilo Ilo was chosen "for its excellence in execution and performance, accentuated by a thought-provoking storyline".

Previous Singapore entries include Michelle Chong's comedy Already Famous (picked for 2013), Eric Khoo's animated work Tatsumi (2012) and Royston Tan's musical-comedy 881 (2008). None was nominated by the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars.

Ilo Ilo opened here last Thursday. Including takings from sneak previews from Aug 23 to 25, the PG13-rated $700,000-budgeted movie earned $250,000 as of Sept 1 on 15 prints, which is considered a mid-sized release.

A Singapore work is considered to have a wide release when it is out in cinemas on more than 30 prints. Box-office champ Jack Neo's films regularly earn $2 to $3 million, and sometimes more. In comparison, the well-received NC16-rated Sandcastle by Boo Junfeng took in $14,000 on one print in its opening weekend in August 2010.

Chen calls the attendance numbers for Ilo Ilo "very encouraging", given that "it is not the usual fare that Singaporeans are used to". Some of the concern is over preconceptions some people might have of a so-called arthouse movie, even though this film deals with very relatable Singaporean themes.

He would be heartened by the reactions of cinemagoer Vicki Heng, a lawyer who watched it on Sunday. She says: "Most Singapore productions can be quite slow but this wasn't. It wasn't fast- paced for sure, but the pace was very well thought out and it told the story very well."

Ms Heng, 38, went with her children, Scott, five, and Sarah, seven, and their Filipino maid Belena Loberiza, who is from the province of Iloilo.

She says her children took away something from the film. "They are generally quite nice to Belena, but kids can throw tantrums now and then. They learnt not to be so mean to Aunty Belena. Actually, they were very well-behaved today. I don't know whether it's because of the movie or not."

Distributor Golden Village hopes that strong word of mouth from patrons such as Ms Heng will further boost the movie's showing.

Its spokesman says the opening weekend box office "performed to our expectations" and adds: "We are hopeful that the film will collect about $500,000 by the end of its run."

Ilo Ilo is showing in cinemas.

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