WhyItMatters

Ilo Ilo's reel achievement

The news this week that Singapore film Ilo Ilo gained entry into the Busan Film Festival's top 100 Asian films of all time is important, because it's a credit from a credible source.

Expert-judged lists such as the Asian Cinema 100 are crucial because the quality yardsticks we have today - box-office receipts, critical acclaim and festival wins - are terribly flawed.

The Busan event is arguably one of Asia's most important film events. At the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes, Asian films rarely ever get a look in at these clubs run by and for Westerners.

That's not to say Asian films never win but it takes something truly exceptional. Taste Of Cherry (1997), by Iran's Abbas Kiarostami, won Cannes' Palme d'Or, as did Thailand's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in 2010. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) won four Oscars in 2001.

Many wonderful films have come out of this region since Crouching Tiger - does that mean none of them are as good as that wuxia film directed by Taiwan's Lee Ang? Of course not.

What about critical acclaim? As a film reviewer, I am loath to say this, but we are frequently wrong. The New Yorker magazine's highly respected Pauline Kael called Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - a film that sits on dozens of best-of lists today - "monumentally unimaginative".

Time has a way of making individual critics look like fools. But as the Busan list takes votes from 73 industry professionals, personal quirks are ironed out.

And let's not get started on the box office as a metric of merit.

So Singapore film-maker Anthony Chen's 2013 family drama Ilo Ilo has made it to the Asian Cinema 100 list. To be honest, its rank is near the bottom but it belongs to a tiny club of six films made in the last five years, on a list in which the oldest entrant goes back to 1932. Consider the size of Singapore's population and the relative youthfulness of its film industry and the achievement looks even better.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'Ilo Ilo's reel achievement'. Print Edition | Subscribe