THERE'S always the danger of hype turning into disappointment but thankfully it doesn't happen with Anthony Chen's award-winning Ilo Ilo.
The film's Cannes victory marked a milestone for Singapore cinema and spun into media overkill despite the fact hardly anybody here had seen it yet when the 29-year-old writer-director picked up the Camera d'Or prize in May.
Local audiences can now judge for themselves if this heartwarming family drama lives up to expectations. And there's no reason why it shouldn't; there are a couple of familiar names in the cast - most notably veteran television actor Chen Tianwen and stage actress Yeo Yann Yann - and the heartland plot is as accessible and local as char kway teow.
Set during the Asian financial crisis of the 90s, it looks at how the arrival of a domestic helper changes the dynamics within an ordinary Singaporean family.
Chen plays Teck, the strong and silent father figure who prefers to keep his problems to himself than burden other people with it. Even after losing his job, he keeps it a secret from both his nagging wife Hwee (Yeo) and mischievous son, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler).
The couple hire a Filipino maid Teresa (Angeli Bayani) to take care of their 10-year-old while both of them are not at home during the day. Even though she's an outsider, Teresa is the first to see cracks within the household. Not only that, she sometimes get caught between their tussles and unintentionally puts even more strain on the family members' relationships.
The story puts a lump in one's throat but Chen never exploits the melodrama. Based on his own experience growing up, it's instead told with plenty of restraint which makes it more realistic.
Like a fly on the wall, we see the events unfolding from the perspectives of various characters instead of just one.
Through Jiale's eyes, it feels like a coming-of-age story as the boy starts to develop a special bond with a stranger whom he initially detests for intruding into his home and whom he's made to share his bedroom with.
When it shifts to Teresa's point-of-view, it becomes documentary-like as we see the plight of foreign domestic workers here and the difficulties they face fitting in.
Director of photography Benoit Soler also strips the cinematography to a bare minimum - the Singapore captured by his lens is a little more unpolished than usual but still beautiful and recognisable - and the rawness fits nicely with the darker side of the story.
The cast also impresses with their low-key and naturalistic performances.
The old hands, Yeo and Chen, are versatile as ever, and both of them slip comfortably into their roles. Yeo's real-life pregnancy literally adds emotional weight to her character while Chen handles his with stoic grace.
Bayani, a well-known indie actress in the Filipino film industry, also leaves an impression but the real scene-stealer has to be Koh, a primary six student who's making his big-screen debut. Picked from 8,000 hopefuls over a period of 10 months, the child star is a little heartbreaker with his playful buck-toothed smile.
It's uncommon for a local director to want to tell a heartland story but Chen's Ilo Ilo is top of the heap because it has the most heart and cinematic flair.
Don't miss it.