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Anthony Chen: Life (or lack thereof) after “Ilo Ilo”

"Ilo Ilo" director Anthony Chen shares his thoughts on his journey so far, and reveals that his top priority this year actually has nothing to do with film.

SINGAPORE: Many people tend to think life is pretty sweet right now for acclaimed Singapore director Anthony Chen.

After all, his debut feature film “Ilo Ilo”, about a family’s relationship with their domestic helper, grossed some S$1.2 million in Singapore last year.

It also won the prestigious Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival before going on to make history, when it became the first Singapore film to win Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Awards last year.

Chen is now famous, and is a highly sought-after director.

So what could possibly be bad about being Anthony Chen?

Plenty, it seems.

“I am getting quite tired”

While Chen is “grateful” that people around the world have embraced “Ilo Ilo”, which he described as “a humble film from Singapore”, he feels a little snowed under by the massive amount of promotional work and the seemingly endless interviews he has to do, as he brings his film to various parts of the world.

“Last year was really, really crazy.

“Just before Christmas I actually visited seven countries in seven days. I was in Dubai, and then Los Angeles, then Brisbane, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, London in seven days,” said Chen, who sounded a little tired during the phone interview.

“I started travelling early this year also. I was in Palm Springs, California, when the year opened. There are also a couple more festivals in February, March and April.”

“I am getting quite tired, to be honest. I am a bit sick of … listening to myself talk [during interviews].”

“It (promotional work for “Ilo Ilo”) can really start to wear you down, it’s like a job, it’s not like you’re going around holidaying, having fun. You are expected to hit the mark, give coherent answers, and be accessible all the time,” Chen continued.

The director explained that he simply wants some time to clear his head and work on his next film this year.

“I’m hoping to slowly, slowly retreat back to my normal life. Just … go back to being productive I guess,” said Chen pensively.

Maybe baby

While it may sound like working on his next film,  which he says is “very highly possible to be an English language film set in the Western world”  is his top priority, Chen revealed that his biggest goal this year is actually to start a family.

“I told every [film] festival this year that invited me, that if you want me to go, you have to pay for my wife to go too. If not, I’m not going. If you really want me there, take my wife along!

“This year is about me and my wife. This year is different,” said Chen.

“If you want to have a kid, you need to be around each other more, spend more time than ever together.”

That is easier said than done.

Chen will have his hands full bringing his film to Korea, the US and China later this year.


For now, he is just happy to be able to spend the Lunar New Year with his wife and parents in Singapore.

Alas, work is never far away – Chen will be promoting the “Ilo Ilo” DVD while he is here, and will be autographing DVDs of the film at Books Actually on Friday, as well as at Popular (Jurong Point) and Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City) on Saturday. 

Chen perked up when the conversation drifted to the release of the “Ilo Ilo” DVD in Singapore.

He later explained that it was simply because he feels the release of the DVD represents an opportunity to share his film with more Singaporeans.

“I hope people who didn’t get to watch it when it was released in theatres will get to see what it’s all about.

“It’s not about the sales. As a filmmaker, you hope to share the film with as many people as possible,” said Chen.

“I’m just crossing my fingers that the DVD is not going to be pirated online or be pirated all over China.”

“To be honest, if the film gets really pirated crazily in China ... I think that’s a great accomplishment as well.”

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