Filmmaker Rod Pulido's The Flip Side was the first feature-length Filipino-American film to premiere at Sundance. Luckily for Robert Redford's famed indie festival, The Flip Side is a real gem, rich in intelligent, often hilarious dialog. A fast-moving satire about a Filipino family in suburban Southern California, it's All in the Family fastforwarded several decades and Pinoyed.
Pulido, a Cal State Long Beach film grad who was born and raised in Cerritos, deliberately shot his film in 16 mm black-and-white to underscore Filipino-Americans'—and fellow Asian-Americans'—exclusion from a national discourse on race that is limited to black and white. It's also Pulido's attempt to indict Hollywood, which, despite showing films in Technicolor, relegates Asians to virtual invisibility.
College student Darius Delacruz (superbly played by former UC Irvine history/international-studies student Verwin Gatpandan) has joined a campus group, Kababayan, to agitate for Tagalog to be taught on campus. It's art imitating life, for across the street from where the film will make its Orange County debut is UCI, where Filipino-American students are still demanding permanent Tagalog classes. They argue that Filipino-Americans, the second-largest Asian subgroup in the United States, deserve better treatment.
Darius, discovering his roots, prances around the house half-naked in tribal bahag (loin cloth), speaks Tagalog at the dinner table, and decorates his bedroom walls with posters of heroes of the Philippine Revolution and the California farm workers' movement (like United Farm Workers' Philip Vera Cruz). His happily assimilated dad (played well by Abe Pagtama) thinks his son has joined "some kind of crazy, radical" group.
Darius' kid brother Davis (impressively acted by Jose Saenz, a.k.a. the rapper Flipchild) can't dig his bro's "back to the roots" shit. Instead, he speaks fast in hip-hop lingo and wants to be an NBA star. Neurotic older sister Marivic (ably performed by UCI drama graduate Ronalee Par) calls Davis a "wannabe nigger." In jumps politically correct Darius, twice reminding her to say "wannabe African-American" instead.
A basketball fanatic, Davis is only five-feet-five-inches tall, so he hangs from the stairs, trying in vain to stretch himself to gain just two inches so he can be like his idol, NBA guard Spud Webb. Davis also wishes he has even just "an ounce" of "black blood" in him.
Darius' facility with Tagalog comes in handy at the dinner table when he lets slip in his native tongue that wannabe-whitey sis wants a nose job. The parents are shocked, but the supportive mom (the director's actual mother, Ester Pulido) eventually pays for the operation.
With four days left in the shoot, Pulido found the elderly Manong Peping Baclig in Los Angeles to play Grandpa Lolo. Baclig, a Bataan Death March survivor during World War II, performs his role exquisitely. Often left to eat alone in his room, Lolo is ignored by everyone in the family except grandson Darius. In fact, Lolo manages to sneak out regularly to buy Lotto tickets, hoping to win enough money to go back to the Philippines.
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Another unforgettable character is Davis' pal Roland (Cal State Fullerton student Clint Labrador), a fellow ball player Davis calls "felatio boy." In an attempt to get girls ("honeys," as he calls them), Roland seeks to add a tongue stud so he can master "felatio." He, of course, meant to say "cunnilingus."
The musical score includes traditional Filipino music (such as gong chimes), plus tracks by poet Name Life that underline the hip-hop chatter between Davis and Roland.
Indie Pinoy films such as The Flip Side and last year's The Debut have made it out of the festival circuit into your neighborhood cineplexes because of positive word-of-mouth and the concerted efforts of legions of volunteers. If you'd like to join, check out the film's website (www.flipsidemovie.com).
THE FLIP SIDE WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ROD PULIDO; AND STARS VERWIN GATPANDAN, JOSE SAENZ, RONALEE PAR, ABE PAGTAMA, ESTER PULIDO AND MANONG PEPING BACLIG. OPENS FRIDAY FOR AN EXCLUSIVE TWO-WEEK RUN AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE, AND EDWARDS CERRITOS 10, CERRITOS.