Seven Ironies In ‘Ilo Ilo’

‘Ilo Ilo’ (爸妈不在家) is a movie about the intricate tensions of keeping even a small family together, of how adding a stranger into the mix can both worsen and better its dynamics. There are at least four human-related ironies in the movie, as below:

[1] Out of love to keep the family going, both parents of the boy hold or try to hold on to day jobs. Yet, this means they get to spend less quality time with the boy, which is what fortifies love. Responsibility ironically led to absent parenthood, which leads to absent childhood in terms of parent-child relating. This is absenteeism unchecked.

[2] Also out of love, the parents employed a maid to look after the boy. The absent parenthood becomes more obvious with the presence of the maid’s care – which led to jealousy of the mother, without herself seeing this clearly. (The father was however so preoccupied in his career woes and thus absent, that he never saw any clear cause for jealousy.) This is jealousy unchecked.

[3] The maid becomes the boy’s surrogate mother, while the boy becomes the maid’s surrogate son. There is love-hate in the sense that the boy gets another ‘mother’ to nag at him, while he later knows it is care too. The maid too detested needing to look after the rebellious boy at first, but really cared later. These are conflicting emotions unchecked.

[4] Both the mother and the maid saw the need to make more money, which is why they let ‘strangers’ look after their own young sons. The mother goes to work and leaves the boy in the maid’s reluctant care, while the maid goes overseas to work and leaves her son in her sister’s reluctant care. This is sheer irony unchecked!

Probably undetected by most, there are three animal-related ironies in the movie too:

[a] The family tucks into a barrel of KFC chicken to celebrate the boy’s birthday… while the father gives him a box of chicks for pets as a present. This irony could be unintentional, which all the more makes it a good example of how many of us are self-contradictory in our actions without even knowing we are being so. This is cognitive dissonance unchecked.

[b] The boy lovingly cares for the chicks until they grow to be full-grown chickens… but he does not hesitate to ask his maid to kill one of them as an offering for his deceased grandfather, in the bid to get winning lottery numbers (which did not work). Looks like his love for the chickens was not unconditional or priceless, but could be betrayed for taste, as in [a], and ‘sold’ for hopes of more wealth? This is bad faith unchecked.

[c] If the boy really loved the chickens, he would not be able to bear letting even one of them be killed, what more to personally order the killing? And if the boy really wanted to have a chicken killed, he should be able to do it himself? The truth is, like many meat-eaters, he does not like killing animals but likes eating them. Many meat-eaters like animals too, especially cuter baby ones. This is ageism unchecked.

The sum of ‘Ilo Ilo’ is of course more than the illustrations of ironies above, but recognising them and relating to them do make it a more nuanced movie than it already is.

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