Singapore film Ilo Ilo on track to break even thanks to international acclaim

The film Ilo Ilo is on track to break even and might even garner a small profit, said film-maker Anthony Chen (above). -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
The film Ilo Ilo is on track to break even and might even garner a small profit, said film-maker Anthony Chen (above). -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

The film Ilo Ilo is on track to break even and might even garner a small profit, said film-maker Anthony Chen.

The drama made for a relatively modest S$700,000 had done especially well in France, where it has ranked among the most commercially successful of recent Asian imports.

In Singapore, it has just crossed the one million Singapore dollar mark in the box office, making it the best-performing non-mainstream film of recent times.

Chen said this at a talk held at the ATF Asia TV Forum & Market and Screen Singapore event on Dec 4.

The modest commercial success of Ilo Ilo brings into question the standard belief that films are either made for critical acclaim or to make money, he said.

"There is a line dividing arthouse films and commercial films. I am not saying I have answers to this tough subject, but this film Ilo Ilo is a good example to use to talk about the issue," he said.

To illustrate, he gave figures showing how recently-released horror, thriller and romantic comedies made in Singapore deliberately aimed at the mass market, and given more cinema screens, made poor to middling box-office here, with the exception of the comedy Taxi Taxi (S$1.4 million) and the runaway hit comedy Ah Boys To Men 2 (S$7.9 million).

He showed the figures to the audience of about 200 at the trade show, held in the Marina Bay Sands, where he also answered questions from the audience about finding financial backers and film marketing.

About 20 countries have bought rights to Ilo Ilo, which won the Camera d'Or prize at this year's Cannes International Film Festival, as well four Golden Horse awards in Taiwan in November, including Best Feature Film.

Ilo Ilo, which tells the story of a Singapore family adapting to life with a domestic worker from the Ilo Ilo province of the Philippines, opened in France in early September. As of last week, it had close to 83,000 admissions, translating to around 600,000 Euros. Chen compared this with the Japanese film Tokyo Sonata (2008), which, at 95,000 admissions in France, was declared an Asian hit there.

To date, Ilo Ilo's gross earnings stands at S$2.8 million. This includes domestic and international box office takings, as well as licences sold to television stations, DVD distributors and airlines. It opened last week in Taiwan, and has just opened in the Philippines. It will be released in the United Kingdom and the United States next year. The film will be released on DVD in Singapore during the Chinese New Year period next year.

The usual break-even point for movies is three times the budget, so Chen said that given the $2.8 million earnings, it is likely to recoup its $700,000 budget, or even make a profit.