Higher Power.

From Manohla Dargis’s review of M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, in the New York Times:

Apparently those who live in the water now roam the earth trying to make us listen, though initially it’s rather foggy as to what precisely we are supposed to hear — the crash of the waves, the songs of the sirens, the voice of God — until we realize that of course we’re meant to cup our ear to an even higher power: Mr. Shyamalan.

I still want to see the film — I always subscribe to the motto that I’d probably enjoy a film I’ve been wanting to see despite colossally bad reviews — but Ms. Dargis! I wrote it first! =)

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In Ian Ganazon and Neill dela Llana’s terrific thriller, Cavite, the Filipino American filmmakers take the tired cliches of the genre and craft an exceptional film. The plot isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, from Cellular to Red Eye (the only one I’ve seen of the four) to Nick of Time to Phone Booth: a man receives a call on a cellphone from a kidnapper, telling him that his mother and sister has been kidnapped and that he has to follow all the kidnapper’s demands or they die. The result is a surprisingly politically complex and gripping suspense movie, made even more interesting for its being set in the Philippines.

What Cavite will also be remembered for is the astonishing constraints under which the film was made: an overall budget of less than $7,000, cameras resold on eBay to pay for editing (which was done completely on a home computer), a practically two-man cast and crew. (Two weeks before they were to fly to the Philippines, they still couldn’t find a lead actress who wanted to accompany them, so they rewrote the script so that Ganazon could play the protagonist, with dela Llana holding the camera the whole time.)

Formally, the film is a marvel in its economy — actor, disembodied voice, circling camera — and the narrative is structured in the classic three-act fashion. Cavite is also clearly more than just a jittery travelogue. As the taunting kidnapper orders Adam to walk through twisted alleyways, crowded markets, squatter camps, and rivers choking with festering garbage, it is clear that he (and the audience) is receiving a political education as well.

The film, however, provides little historical or economic context for the poverty that Adam witnesses, and it is presented as almost being “endemic” to the area. A later scene where the kidnapper gives him a history lesson on the gross injustices experienced by Muslim Filipinos isn’t exactly germane to what Adam sees in Cavite. (We get a possible glimpse of this in two clever digressions from the taut narrative: the camera breaks away momentarily to follow a boy buying a McDonald’s meal for his grandmother, but one of these scenes ingeniously happens at a point when filming may have been impossible.) But we begin to understand, at least, the process of radicalization for the Muslim kidnapper, as we find out halfway through the film that he is a member of the Abu Sayyaf (I’m not spoiling anything here, as this is telegraphed in the opening credits).

Cavite could also be read as quite intelligently following the stereotypical plot as seen in your average Pilipino Cultural Night — confused Filipino American in search of self, “returns” to the Philippines, and discovers one’s self. What further animates this thriller, and elevates it from the genre, is the interweaving of the theme of cultural discovery. (Indeed, the movie could be seen as a suspense-thriller twist on the ethnic-identity film genre, and not the other way around.) Filipino American youth — perhaps like the filmmakers themselves — would no doubt find familiar tropes here, tweaked and heightened: the dizzying confusion, the humidity, the shock of the misery of the Third World, the bewilderment of a half-understood foreign/native language, the balut offered up as a kind of culinary litmus test. The filmmakers make perfect use of the staring bystanders; Adam’s incongruity as he trudges through Cavite City is perhaps only a little less jarring than the presence of the two filmmakers themselves.

In the end, it is significant that the action takes place in the province of Cavite, where Emilio Aguinaldo first proclaimed the independence of the Philippine Republic from Spain. The Muslims of the Philippines, however, failed to receive, and continue to do so, the benefits and rights of any form of independence, and the events in Mindanao of the last three decades certainly bear witness to this.

(What makes the film rather politically problematic, on a couple of different levels, is the decision the protagonist makes, and the way the kidnapper is portrayed. Arguably, however, the filmmakers shroud this in moral ambiguity, depending on how one interprets the opening shot. But unfortunately, any further discussion would spoil the film for you folks, so perhaps any spoilers should be mentioned — and explicitly designated so! — in the comments, if any of you readers have seen the film…)

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End Make D Parflays Dance.

Courtesy of Boyong and the V-Monster (looks like Bryanboy beat me to the link again), comes the funniest thing I’ve seen all month: brand-new Pinoy internet celebrity Alyssa Alano, with her incomparable version of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” (or rather, “Keys Me”). And hats off to the genius who supplied the brutally funny videoke subtitles. (You may need the real lyrics to figure out what she’s singing.)

Watch her YouTube video here; thank me later.

p.s. On a slightly more serious note: Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana’s Cavite is one hell of a terrific film, and if you’re living in the SF Bay Area or San Diego, please do make plans to see it. I’ll be posting a longer entry later, but take my word for it: it’s very good. (Yes, we can talk about the politically problematic parts later.)

Dennis Lim’s review for the Voice is here.

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Cavite, Opening This Friday.


A film by Ian Gamazon and Neill dela Llana opens June 16, 2006 in the Bay Area

A Filipino-American suspense thriller

Landmark’s Lumiere Theatre – 1572 California St., San Francisco, (415) 352-0821

Showtimes (valid 6/16-22): shows Fri-Sun at 2:30 5:00 7:30 9:45; Mon-Thu at 5:00 7:30 9:45

On Fri 6/16 discussion after the 7:30pm show
moderated by Benito M. Vergara, Jr.,
of SF State University Asian American Studies

Advance ticket purchase at:

Tickets are $9.75 for general admission and $7.75 seniors and children

Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas – 2230 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, (510) 464-5980

Showtimes (valid 6/16-22): shows daily at 1:30 3:30 5:30 7:30 9:30

Advance ticket purchase at:

Tickets are $9.50 for general admission, $7.50 seniors and children

Official film site:

Message from CAVITE filmmakers:

Dear Friends,

How often is it that a movie is released in theaters where Filipino-Americans can watch a representation of their generation up onscreen? Not often enough. Cavite opens May 26 in New York and Los Angeles and three weeks later in San Diego and San Francisco, with dates in Seattle to follow. It’s easy for us to ask all of you to come and support so we can continue our careers as filmmakers. But what we ask is so much more than that.

Cavite has been called “a landmark in diaspora cinema” and it could not be more true. It represents a journey back to our homeland that not only we, as a generation of Filipino-Americans, but audiences outside our culture have responded to as well. And it’s that idea of Cavite traveling beyond the lines of the Fil-Am boundaries that we should celebrate on this occasion. Now we have a chance to show people of all cultures and races a slice of the Filipino-American experience told in a manner that anyone, no matter what your heritage, can appreciate.

And it’s in that thought that we urge you and your friends to come see Cavite. It will thrill and it will educate, it will present a side of a spectacular world rarely seen in cinema today. But most of all, if people see this movie on the weekend of its release — and let’s not kid ourselves, attendance will be key — it will allow all of us as filmmakers or storytellers to make more films that our generation, and future generations can be proud of.

In conclusion, what we ask for is a celebration — a celebration of a movie born out of a desire to represent who we are and what we can do. So let’s rejoice, go see the movie, tell anyone that will listen, and not wait another minute to watch a representation of Filipino-American filmmaking up onscreen.


Ian Gamazon/ Neill dela Llana

co-directors, CAVITE

The San Francisco Chronicle calls the Filipino-American suspense story an “exploration of identity…what it means to be a Filipino, an American and a Muslim.” Read the full article on:

“CAVITE ingeniously turns a Hollywood action movie premise into a report on the Philippines and the social and religious divisions that continue to roil the country. Directors Gamazon and Dela Llana get into locations not seen in the West since Lino Brocka’s provocative, politicized films of the 70’s and 80’s….Among the most striking American independent movies of the year.” –The New York Times

“CAVITE is a brilliantly resourceful film with sensational camerawork…A landmark in diaspora cinema.” –The Village Voice

“An intimate political thriller that’s fresh and compelling to the end.” –Los Angeles Times

“CAVITE is a breathless, jugular thriller” –LA Weekly

“A must see!” –Justin Wu, Asianweek


Someone to Watch Award, Independent Spirit Awards 2006

SXSW (South by Southwest), Special Jury Prize 2005

SFIAAFF (San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) Special Jury Award 2005

Golden Maille Award, Best Picture, Hawaii International Film Festival 2005

Maverick Award, Woodstock Film Festival 2005


The SFIAAFF / J-Town.

So here are the films I’ll be watching (or think you folks should check out) at the SF International Asian American Film Festival, given my limited time in SF (I have to be in Atlanta for a conference):

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Cafe Lumiere (2004).

My friend Jack’s Mom said, “Isn’t that that Taiwanese filmmaker who made that really really slow movie?” and proceeded to describe Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There? No, I said, that’s another really really slow Taiwanese filmmaker. (I don’t mind slow, honest.) It’s going to be awesome, though; I’ll be watching Tokyo Story again for this one.

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda Linda Linda (2005).

Read that synopsis! How could you not want to watch it? (I’ll be pulling out my Blue Hearts CDs for that one!)

Richard Wong’s Colma: The Musical (2005).

And my apologies to H.P. Mendoza, writer, musician and actor who has publicly shamed me, ha ha, for forsaking Colma: The Musical for the Belle and Sebastian / New Pornographers concert that same night, though he apparently skipped his mom’s funeral for a Ben Folds Five concert. I honestly hope it was worth hearing “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” live. And my apologies in advance to L.A. Renigen, whom I think I’ve never met or been in contact with, but whose cousin is currently a student in my class and has asked me whether I’m watching her cousin’s movie. I’m sorry, I said with a wince, realizing that this was at least the second time I had to explain myself after a colleague hassled me about not watching the film especially since I actually work on Daly City. But… but… Belle and Sebastian!

Jeff Adachi’s The Slanted Screen (2005).

The director, Jeff Adachi, came by the office last week with a stack of flyers to promote the film. It sure sounded great (he came by the same week I had just shown Deborah Gee’s 1988 documentary Slaying the Dragon for the 431st time, not that that’s a bad thing). (I also did a double-take, because I recognized his name and face but figured there was no way he was that same Jeff Adachi I was thinking of. He was.)

Speaking of people wandering into my office, Aaron Kitashima (who is one of our majors, who did indeed wander into my office, and, who I just realized, is the grandson of Sox Kitashima!) has been circulating an online petition on the sale of properties in San Francisco’s Japantown, which is currently nearing 15,000 signatures. More signatures will help; more information through an SF Bay Guardian article, here.