Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review – Pinoy Sunday

October 7, 2010

Pinoy Sunday – Taiwan, 2010

Every morning at about 7:00 AM, Da’an Park is filled with elderly Taiwanese. Some are doing Yoga; others are taking their morning walks. Some wheelchair-bound seniors sit quietly taking in the sun and breathing the fresh air. Another group stands huddled together chatting happily in a language foreign to the elderly residents they have been hired to take care of. In other areas of Taipei, a second group of migrant workers, mostly men, are awakening in their factory-owned dormitories. Many of these men work construction; others are employed in factories. Their wages are low, and if their employer decides to end their employment, deportation is a near certainty. It’s a tough life, one often made more difficult by the fact that their families are often hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Pinoy Sunday is about four of these people, each one looking for just a small slice of happiness in a land far from home. Two of them work in a warehouse; the other two are domestic servants. Neither of them is completely happy.

The film begins just after the arrival of Manuel (Jeffrey Quizon) and Dado (Bayani Agbayani) at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. We sense their nervous, and they confirm this by wondering aloud about their employer’s managing style. At the airport, Dado runs into a compatriot who tells him dispassionately, “I’m going home.” A moment later, Dado witnesses the young man taken up an escalator by a security officer. The image never completely leaves him, and for the rest of the film, he is haunted by thoughts of both arrest and deportation.

Dado and Manuel are life-long friends, and it is their friendship that is at the heart of the film. While Dado craves security, Manuel longs for love. Perhaps he has never seen a woman that he hasn’t fallen in love with. Towards the beginning of the film, we learn that he went to a club and met a woman named Celia, and now, he is infatuated with her, yet in a very sweet way. Manuel seems to think of himself as a modern-day, verbal Don Juan, able to woo a woman with sugary-sounding words spoken in a very soft tone of voice. Under other circumstances, he would likely have been a poet. Listen to the way he talks as he stares up at the stars from the roof of his dormitory for proof of this. However, just under his saccharine words, you can detect all of the tell-tale signs of loneliness and longing. One of Manuel’s many problems is that Celia doesn’t remember him, a fact that surprisingly does not discourage him from pursuing her further. He hears her rather dismissive fine, whatever as offering him hope. However, if Celia doesn’t eventually come around, there’s always someone else around the corner to catch his eye. In fact, he’s especially attracted to the young beauties who sell betel nuts. Can you blame him?

Much of what happens in Pinoy Sunday involves the two men attempting to carry an abandoned couch back to their dormitory. It may seem an odd idea, but for these two characters, it makes perfect sense, for to them, the couch represents the sense of comfort that they are sorely lacking. They may not feel comfortable relating to the people around them, but a couch would go a long way toward making them feel welcome at “home,” which is not so easy given the fact that their boss couldn’t care less whether they are deported or not.

The film’s two primary female characters are Dado’s girlfriend, Anna (very sweetly played by Meryll Soriano) and the object of Manuel’s affection, Celia (Allessandro de Rossi). These two characters are not given much screen time, yet what we do see of them is quite moving. Anna is employed by a married couple who seems to spend every moment arguing. She is grossly overworked and stressed, yet some of the film’s sweetest moments involve her quietly taking her employer’s mother to the park and the hospital. The older woman never smiles, yet I sensed that she had a great deal of empathy for Anna, as if she understood the similarities in their situations. Dado and Anna both have a pretty big secret, not from each other, though, and what happens between them is both logical and heartbreaking at the same time. I won’t say much about Celia, except that she finds herself in a situation that unfortunately there is not easy way out of, not if she wants to stay in Taiwan, that is.

Pinoy Sunday is a sweet film that is occasionally weighed down by moments of clunky, unrealistic dialogue, and it’s quickly apparent that the film has nowhere it can really go. They are either going to make it before their dormitory closes or they aren’t. I imagine that director Wi Ding Ho realized this and that that is why the film clocks in at under ninety minutes long. Even so, the film still seems to drag slightly. In addition, some of the changes in the two lead characters occur too suddenly and seem more awkward than logical. There’s even a strange series of events in which they apparently help stop a suicide and are then pursued by a reporter who wants to interview them. These events are important in the film, yet I suspect the young man thinking about jumping was just as confused by his mother’s actions as I was during the scene. And while I know that some reporters will do anything for a story, this reporter’s actions seemed extreme even for Taiwan.

Despite this, however, Pinoy Sunday won me over. Its lead actors, each of them veterans of TV and film, give good performances and seem genuine even when the dialogue they have to deliver doesn’t quite click as well as it should. I also liked the way the film used supporting characters such as Dado and Manuel’s missing co-worker Carros and a friendly female police officer to help viewers understand Dado’s torn feelings. Through Dado, Manual, Celia, and Anna, we get a look at a portion of Taiwanese society that is not often given the chance to express themselves. This alone does not make the film a masterpiece or even a great film, but coupled with the film’s humanistic plot, warm relationships, and interesting characters, it does help to make the film a good one. (on DVD in Region 3)

3 stars

*Pinoy Sunday is in Tagalog and Mandarin with English subtitles. There is also a short scene in the film that is intentionally not subtitled.

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