DEPICTING divorce in a comedic light, putting an empowered Filipino woman at the forefront, and representing Asian Americans onscreen are all achievements of the film Asian Persuasion.
The film follows a down-on-his-luck chef Mickey (played by Filipino-American film, TV, and voice actor Dante Basco; you may have seen or heard him as Hook’s Rufio, Avatar’s Prince Zuko, or in The Fabulous Filipino Brothers’ Duke) who signs divorce papers without a lawyer present, and the unfortunate events and schemes that followed. The woman at the center of the film, newly divorced fashion executive Avery, is played by actress KC Concepcion (actress and singer Sharon Cuneta’s firstborn). Director Jhett Tolentino said in a Bonifacio Global City press conference on Aug. 23 that her role is one that exudes women empowerment, and that the character will be far from the typical clueless lady.
Mickey tries to avoid paying alimony by getting suitable bachelor Lee (Paolo Montalban) from a dating site to marry his ex-wife. The film boasts of an Asian American cast that includes Paolo Montalban, Kevin Kreider, Geneva Carr, Celia Au, Scarlett Sherr, and Jax Bacani.
Inspired by his own divorce, it was scriptwriter and California native Mike Ang’s natural tendency to use comedy to laugh things away, so he wrote the script as a form of catharsis. Unmistakably a Filipino-American story, the cast and crew said at various points during a press conference that the 4.6 million Filipinos (or Americans of Filipino descent) living in North America are the film’s main audience.
However, Mr. Ang says that the film can be watched by anyone, as its narrative isn’t overtly Asian or Filipino. “As an Asian American growing up in the States, I know there’s a lot of people who want to connect with their identity and see a representation of themselves onscreen. We did that with this film even though it’s not about being Asian or Asian stuff,” said.
For Jhett Tolentino, who has been producing Broadway shows and indie films in the US since 2012, this was undoubtedly a great project to direct. He took on the task of bringing Mr. Ang’s script to life, drawn to how it “showcases our culture in a different light, in the Western lens.”
“It shows that we can have similar experiences that anybody else can have in the world,” he told BusinessWorld at the press launch.
CELEBRATING ASIAN TALENT
As we’ve mentioned above, the cast makes a prominent case for Asian American representation, but so does the crew — combined, the production has representation from no less than 21 Asian countries.
“I really wanted to create opportunities for Asian talent, from top to bottom,” said Mr. Tolentino.
For Mr. Montalban, who plays Avery’s potential suitor Lee, the project was perfect since he really found himself resonating with the awkward yet charming role.
“The last name of my character is Prince, and I’m mostly known for playing Prince Charming in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” he said. Mr. Montalban played that role in a 1997 Disney television film adaptation of the musical, starring next to singers Brandy and Whitney Houston in a similarly diverse production. “They also wrote that he’s 47 years old and, at the time I was reading the script, I was 47 years old,” he said.
Most importantly, it was the chance to work with his longtime friend, Mr. Basco. Though the two were friends in Los Angeles and came up together in the world of acting, they knew they’d probably never work together because American productions “can only hire one Asian.”
“We thought we’d never get the opportunity. But here it is,” Mr. Montalban said.
The film marks Ms. Concepcion’s comeback after a seven-year hiatus from showbiz,. Her most recent TV role was in ABS-CBN teleserye Ikaw Lamang in 2014, while her last film role was in 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival entry Boy Golden. However, she considers her hosting of the 2016 Binibining Pilipinas pageant to be the last job she took before her long hiatus.
She said that Asian Persuasion was her chosen project for a comeback because her being kikay (fashionable) and successful with her own jewelry brand was a great fit for her role as fashion professional Avery. “There are a lot of things [my character] goes through as a married woman, as a young mom, and as a career-driven professional, so a divorce is very hard for her,” said Ms. Concepcion at the press conference. Later, she realized the film was also relevant for allowing Filipinos and Asians around the world to transcend borders. “It’s in English from beginning to end. It’s an American movie. But it’s still a story of a Filipino family, just brought up in the States,” she said. “Filipino-Americans are also part of us homegrown Filipinos, because they are still our people even though they’re in America. It’s a nice way to bring the two worlds together.”
On Ms. Concepcion’s part, having the chance to work opposite Filipino-Americans with years of experience in either Broadway or Hollywood was daunting at first, but eventually very rewarding. Aside from encouraging homegrown Filipinos to try their luck internationally, she hopes that the film will also be part of a long celebration of both Filipino American and Asian American talent.
“To anyone who’s thinking of making this jump like me, to be honest, if you can make it here [in the Philippines], you can make it there too,” she said.
Asian Persuasion will make its world premiere at the SOHO International Film Festival in New York City on Sept. 16, and will open in Philippine theaters on Nov. 29. — Brontë H. Lacsamana