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I went to see the Filipino-American "The Debut" because I make a point of
seeing any ethnic coming-of-age movie, as I'm curious to see how they
compare to the Jewish experience in movies, including last year's Asian
Indian-American films "ABCD," and "American Chai," the Greek-American
"Astoria," and one of my all time faves from a few years ago the
Korean-Canadian "Double Happiness."
Like all movies in this genre (usually for semi-autobiographical reasons), the conflicted lead wants to be an artist rather than what his parents plan for him.
A particularly original angle is that the main character is younger than usual, a high school student way immersed in MTV culture, from comic books, heavy metal and hip hop language, and, of course, embarrassed by his family's cooking and other traditions. The titular event is his sister's coming-out party, which becomes an evening of ethnic discovery for him.
Unlike the older generation of immigrant vs young artist movies like "The Jazz Singer," the ethnic culture here is not all retrograde but is lovingly shown in class and generational diversity and warmth, while showing the conflicts the parents face as well. The political debate among the teens as to whether the lead is a "coconut" is a bit forced but interesting.
The variety of dance scenes leave the realism a bit as they are as choreographed as in the cheerleader satire "Bring It On" but they are fun. The naturalness of the actors in supporting roles makes up for some of the amateurishness in their performances, and the leads are charming.
I asked director Gene Cajayon, who was at my showing, how could it be that such a gathering would attract kids from across class lines. He explained that such Filipino family events bring together a large slice of the community as friends of the family, as here the dad works in the post office and the uncle is a doctor.
The closing credits are open-hearted-- amusingly and passionately thanking the myriad people with the explanations of what they did to help.
I am a filpino myself and I was really excited to watch a movie on the big screen about filipinos. Dante Basco(Ben Mercado) delivers a great performance along with his 3 brothers, Darren, Derrick, and Deion. This movie was very life-touching. About how your life can change in one night. And I was happy to get some ideas for my debut party. So if you wanna see something different and unique for a change, go see it now!
I must say I did enjoy this movie. Not so much that it had Filipinos
as myself in it , but more because it was about Filipino youth growing up
here in the USA dealing with their own ideas vs their parents. Why the
medical field all the time?
Yes, it did generalize the different types of Filipinos that I come across but the story was deep enough to for even my parents to enjoy. Being born and raised in a normal west suburb of Chicago I did sense the conflict that Ben, the lead, had in this movie. However, I never found it to be a stuggle in life due to my heritage. Also, this movie will give my relatives in the Philippines a view of my world that they never really see.
No, this movie is not Oscar calibur but I give it a thumbs up for effort and conviction...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Debut is a small independently produced film with Filipino and
Filipino-American players is a good look for us westerners into the
culture and life of a people most of us know very little about. As to
the story however, it's one of three generations of generational
conflict that's universal.
The film's lead Dante Basco who is best known for playing Rufio in the Dustin Hoffman-Robin Williams film Hook is our protagonist here. Dante is a thoroughly Americanized kid who wants to be an artist and he's pretty good at it. His parents however want him in regular college for which he's earned a scholarship and not to some art school where he has to pay the full freight.
Parents Tirso Cruz and Gina Alajar think this is all nonsense. Cruz has worked as a letter carrier for the post office in order to provide for his family. He wants no foolishness from his son. They quarrel and Basco blows off his sister's 16th birthday party. For Filipino girls, 16 is a bit more than sweet 16 for us Anglos, it's in fact their Debut.
That night after some encounters with other kids who've reacted to their immigrant status and heritage in various ways and with his family at his sister's Debut, Basco learns quite a lot, including just how much his father sacrificed his dreams for his children. The generations, father, son, and visiting grandfather all come together.
The Debut was shot with a fairly cheap budget, the story doesn't exactly call for a DeMille type production. Dante Basco has an entire group of siblings who are actors, just like the Phoenix family and they all seem to have found work here. Best known of the siblings is Dion Basco who played Alberto in the TNBC series, City Guys.
Still it's Dante's film and he turns in a fine performance as a kid who does a lot of growing up over the course of an evening. The Debut is a nice film with a look at Filipino culture that we would rarely get to see in the west.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
i really wanted to like this film, but i just couldn't. i mean, of
course, i did like it for the 1 1/2 hour ride it took me on via the
filipino stereotypes. But that's about it, folks.
this movie, in essence, is the experience of one man's life growing up as a second generation filipino. it's nice (and that's the best word i can find) to see his experience and we hope the best for him (Go Rufio!).
where this movie fails is in its marketing and advertising towards the larger audience. this film, in my opinion, plays "the race card," even if it doesn't mean to. for example, look at rjcarr's response to this film above, he says it's nice to see a bit of filipino culture. GREAT! But we have to remember that this is only one man's point of view, only one version of the filipino culture. therefore, this is a highly subjective film. where this film troubles me is that it is a very highly subjective point of view of many, many people marketed off, even if unintentionally, as the objective point of view. i mean, come on, just look at what others say, even Roger Ebert.
As a second generation filipino-American myself, i had high hopes and somewhat high expectations for this movie as perhaps Gene Cajayon could voice some of the similar struggles we have faced. Normally i wouldn't have high expectations for this sort of film because it is unfair. that being said, you could say that i am being unfair. But as i mentioned earlier, this film had the audacity to distinguish itself as "A FIlipino American Movie." therefore, the movie is representing me, my brother, and other filipino Americans. i don't think it's unfair to want to be represented properly if someone is going to claim themselves as the canon for filipino Americans. that is not unfair, it's racist.
perhaps the biggest culprit of outright racism is the character of the sister. She says, "wake up, ben. you know, you're just as brown as the rest of us." Um, judging by color? that's racist. Using brown as a metaphor for being filipino, fine. but why does he have to define himself as filipino? yes, yes, embrace who you are, and if that's being part of the filipino community, fantastic. but that's exactly what it is. it is only part of who Ben is. it seems as if the theme of the movie is that you have to cherish being filipino more than being an individual.
OK, i think that's enough of a response. just a few last thoughts though: let's remember that this film is only one example and not an example of all second generation filipino Americans. you can't use this movie as a piece of fact, because it simply isn't. lastly, to those filipinos who tell me: "come on! wake up! you are a filipino!" I'll have to say no. i am proud to be who i am, and being filipino is definitely part of that, but as you can see (read above), being filipino is only a part of me. in no way does it define me. i don't want someone else telling others who i am and that includes you, thanks.
For someone who went to auditions where the casting directors never
heard of Filipinos, Dante Basco surely was excited to represent his
fellow Filipino-Americans in this film. The Debut was a cause for
excitement in Fil-Am circles, especially among the youth who had
entertainment for Filipinos and entertainment for Americans but never
entertainment for their generation as Filipino Americans.
At times the movie is simplistic with its moral messages about growing up caught in between cultures, but often the director/writer subtly weaves in tales of internalized oppression, shadism, Filipino classism, and interracial relationships.
Despite occasional cheeziness, this movie may be one of the most important to watch for a Filipino American or any multi-cultural westener.
Besides its cultural value, the extra features reveal the very essence of independent film. The tenacity of the the crew and volunteers attests to the hard-working spirit of independent filmmakers and Filipinos.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Debut is an independent film directed and co-written by first-time
Filipino American filmmaker,Gene Cajayon. The film stars Dante
Basco,who plays Ben Mercado, a talented high school senior who enrolls
in a prestigious arts institute in order to realize his dreams of
becoming an artist.
However,Ben Mercado's plans come into conflict with those of his strict immigrant father Roland (Tirso Cruz III), a postal worker intent on seeing him become a doctor. Their long-simmering feudfor Ben, a struggle to be accepted by America and therefore reject his Filipino heritage; and for Roland, a quest to give his children a better life than he hadthreatens to boil over and ruin the elaborate eighteenth birthday party of Ben's sister Rose (Bernadette Balagtas). However, it is at the party where everything starts to change for Ben. The celebration emerges as a cultural stew of old world traditions and contemporary urban lifestyle, challenging Ben's sense of misplaced identity, his choice of friends, even the way he regards his father. He also finds an unexpected confidante (and perhaps a love interest) in Rose's best friend Annabelle (Joy Bisco).
However, the evening's challenges to Ben are just beginning to surface. The arrival of the Mercado family's overbearing patriarch (Eddie Garcia) exacerbates tensions between father and son, while the temptation to ditch the relatives to be with his friends at a kegger across town tugs at Ben throughout the evening. Worse, his budding romance with Annabelle is complicated by the presence of hot-headed Augusto (Darion Basco), a former boyhood friend-turned gangster wannabeand Annabelle's ex. In one night, Ben will face the true nature of his relationships with his family, his friends, and himself.
After viewing this film about Filipino-Americans,I think that this movie has a lot to be desired of and there is certainly lots of room for improvement.
The plot about Filipino children clashing with Filipino-born parents in terms of culture could have been a great one but it turned out to be that the story is very predictable.Also,being a Filipino who resides in the States I felt that I am receiving an overdose of what the Filipino culture and traditions are all about when the story requires less of it.
Also,I felt that a lot of curses were being said by the Filipino parents which I felt does not represent an ordinary household whether in Manila or in other parts of the world.
Finally,I found the choking scene really funny but honestly I felt embarrassed considering that Filipino GRANDPARENTS do not resort to this behavior whenever upset or angry.But definitely,this is a good start for Filipino-Americans here in the States.They can definitely are capable of making good movies in the future.
The Debut is the first Filipino American film to be released theatrically nationwide and the first one to take place within the Filipino American community, one of the largest Asian ethnic minorities in the United States.But nevertheless,this movie is a good but not a great one.
The film "The Debut" was a very touching movie for me. It made me change my idea on Fil-Am stereotypes. I know some kids raised in the United States but born in the Philippines with Filipino roots and they were already colonized by the Western culture once they stepped on the foreign land. They act very different, and worst they talk very much different from us. I like the way Tirso Cruz and Gina Alajar struggled to raise their kids in America but still in a Filipino manner. In the film, Ben seemed to be stubborn, always running away from his culture, shouting on his parents and his sister. But in the end he embraced every aspect of a true Filipino family. I also appreciate how proud are they to show our traditions-practiced in the 18th birthday of Rose in a form of lechon (roasted pig) with an apple on its mouth, eating their food using disposable plastic cups, plates, spoon and fork. They had a dance number which is a folk dance, and a song number sung in tagalong. I was expecting a hip-hop dance number or a rap song number but they maintained what the family used to do when they're in the Philippines. Filipinos are also fond of family portraits, and in the film it was shown in three generations. A picture of Eddie Garcia (Lolo Carlos), Tirso Cruz (Roland Mercado) and Dante Basco (Ben Mercado). It also gave me an idea on how Filipinos live their life in the United Status. There are some who are trying hard to speak English, trying to be slang, while there are families who tried to keep their household very Filipino by keeping Filipino souvenirs displayed on their racks and hang on their walls, and still they can speak and understand Tagalog fluently.
A young Filipino American man is the families touted trophy child as they
believe him to be going to college for pre-med. His sister & some of his
friends know that he wants to be a student of art. The sister is making her
formal debut/birthday party where all the family and friends gather to
celebrate. The conflicts with in the younger generation, with in the older
generation raised in Filipino culture, and the conflicts of expectations of
both generations erupt at the Debut.
Wry humor through out keeps a light mood even though there are some darker and more intense moments. Although this is the director's first work and there are some problems, the over all effect is good. The framework of Ben's life is developed enough for the audience to understand his motivations. The parents are well acted, and their development is mostly left to the pretense of the audiences own experiences in a successful manner. The appreciation of their parents culture is subtly developed by some characters while others are too self involved to see the world around them.
Many famous Filipino actors are featured in this work, and it marks the first time that all four Basco brothers have appeared together. The very diverse music put to use in this film was primarily from Filipino musicians, and it is well suited to the story. This film is playing in very few locations which are listed at the official site. It may or may not make it to video.
Having recently seen the `The Debut' at its premiere in Chicago, I just
to say, `Kudos' to the cast and crew of the movie. As a fellow `pinoy', I
truly appreciated the efforts made by the film's writers to capture the
essence of our dual culture. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that
was an independent film - not having to compromise the script or its
actors. A film about Filipinos, acted, directed, and produced by
And the fact that it took almost two years to get this film shown here,
a testament in itself to the principals of the movie for persevering since
Hollywood decided not to support it.
The story line is your basic coming of age film. However what makes it different is the depth at which the subtleties of Filipino-American life is presented and portrayed for the first time. So for non-Filipinos, it's good `primer' about your prevalent, yet up to now, silent neighbors. For Filipino-Americans, this is a film you should support and be proud of. The film is in English with periodic subtitles. It is not your typical big budget Hollywood film, yet it doesn't play like a low budget indie either. With its spirited acting and a notable (Fil-Am) soundtrack, this movie is polished gem. `Pinoys', welcome to our `debut'!
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