Film Review: 'Lumpia' a homemade relief from unfunny big-budget flicks
Posted at 11:13 PM

Hawaii International Film Festival—Fans of The Debut and other recent Filipino-American comedies will crack up at Lumpia, a modern-day tale of cultural clashes in a small city, Daly City, Calif. They have the same homeland, but when local, hip-hop-loving Filipino teens get annoyed with the newer generation of arrivals from the P.I., the combustibility hits an explosively goofy—and often hilarious—level.

HondaReport.com Movie Review
Title: Lumpia
Pupule’s Rating: * * ½ stars

MPPR Rating:
Date of Viewing: Saturday, November 8, 2003
Location: Dole Cannery/Hawaii International Film Festival

By Paul Honda
Saturday, November 8, 2003

Before I begin, a clear explanation is in order.

Lumpia is a Filipino version of a Chinese egg roll; deep-fried and delicious with a myriad of different ingredients and sauces (sweet chili, vinegar and more).

Lumpia the food often takes an entire day in its making, the way mandoo is hand-crafted by halmuni (grandmas) or pasta noodles are formed lovingly in the kitchen by many an Italian auntie.

This Lumpia was LITERALLY a labor of love.

The beauty of modern-day filmmaking is not that outer-space collisions and Matrix-age effects are available to directors and cinematographers with nine-figure budgets.

The real, ripe delicacy is in the availability of tools, and a place to market those projects that result. Lumpia, a film crafted over a seven-year period with no professional actors, is a testament to modern-day filmmaking.

For all its youthful experimentation and repetition of jokes, Lumpia succeeds when many, if not most, big-budget flicks fail. Writer-director Patricio Ginelsa Jr.’s penchant for physical comedy and his editing team (including Darrel Ginelsa) keep the pace flowing, which helps when the plot runs out of gas in and around Fogtown High School.

Visually and comedically, Patricio’s voice bellows thanks to a wide array of secondary characters. Most notably, Jart and Constancio bring much-needed energy to the screen as the plot waddles along. The storyline, by the way, is a common theme in the story of immigrants, but for those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s a historical nutshell.

Migration is a double-edged sword for most ethnic groups. From Europe and Asia, the pattern has often been the same: The original migrants give birth to the second generation, which in turn is Americanized and sometimes disdainful toward the next wave of migrants. In California, the abuse given from second-generational Chinese toward recent arrivals led to the formation of the Wah Ching gang, a notorious underground organization. In Hawaii, the term “F.O.B.” has been around for generations. If you are fresh off the boat, it is by no means a compliment.

Among teenagers, it’s a vicious cycle. Factor in cultural differences, appearances and normal petty behavior, and that is at the crux of Lumpia’s conflicts. Patricio does wonders with inexperienced actors, teenagers, no less, and the whole FOBs-versus-hip-hop crew is a historical, traditional theme that goes back to the beginning of class warfare.

There is, lest I forget, a hero figure (“Little Brother”). As the film opens, we learn that years ago, his own big brother was ambushed by a bunch of Filipino-hating kids. This fuels his later career as a lumpia-eating, kung fu-kicking avenger for the weak and victimized. And after he kicks tail, he stuffs a lumpia into the mouths (and other orifices) of the hoodlum attackers.

The Hype:
Coming off the success of The Debut, the latest Filipino-American film project shouldn’t be compared to anything else, really. But it will be, in the eyes of film watchers who don’t know the background of Lumpia.

Strengths: Patricio’s zany combination of comic panels (by Leroid David), occasional narration (Joy Bisco) and sound effects (whenever one of the kids gets visually stimulated by a girl, for example) are pure goofball comedy. Patricio holds nothing back regarding the eccentricities and quirks of Filipino culture in an American town, re: Grandma’s use of a certain word describing male anatomy.

The tension between the hip-hoppers and the FOBs leads to a plethora of one-sided “violence,” but it fits with the theme. Don’t expect any Bruce Lee-level action.

Weaknesses: Being a first-time film that was initiated in 1996—before he went to USC film school—it is truly a homemade movie. That’s obvious even if you don’t read up on the background of Lumpia. Even then, however, I found myself glued to the screen, through overdone jokes and repetitious flashbacks. Why? Because Patricio and his cast do a great job of portraying their real-life moments, whether it means gazing—in a non-stalker way, of course—at the object of one’s desire or razzing a buddy for being unconventional.

Best Scene: A lot of quick, funny scenes, but the best one happens when Mon Mon (he profusely prefers to be called James) meets up with his FOB boys, Jart and Constancio, and insists that he has to go to a hip party. Jart and Constancio give their pal a lot of gas for selling out, for rejecting their usual Saturday night fare of bowling and karaoke. That argument is so hilarious, and so memorable because it’s something most—if not all—of us have experienced with best friends during those high school years. There’s also a remarkably authentic karaoke parody by Jart and Constancio that is, well, if you know Filipino karaoke kings and queens, you’ll know what I’m talking about: thick accent when talking, near-perfect American accent on the microphone.

Worst Scene: These are completely untrained actors, so I’ll cut plenty of slack here. There are times when the lead, Mon Mon, is authentic, but there are times that I wished the dialogue was much more genuine and spontaneous. Then again, these kids were basically right off the street, and their courage is worth a lot of appreciation.

Summary: Fans of physical comedy and ethnic tension—yes, these are Filipinos against Filipinos, but the cultural difference is true to real life—will enjoy this film. Just keep a grain of salt handy.

Discretionary notes: No nudity, some profanity, plenty of violence, though much of it is cheesy in a Three Stooges way.

Extra: A few members of the team that produced Lumpia were on hand at the HIFF after the showing. Some notes… many members of the cast were shot in different scenes over a seven-year period, from 1996-2003. For example, the girl who portrays Kelly had both short and long hair at different stages in the story. She also had braces most of the way, but had no braces toward the end. That was uncontrollable; scenes were shot whenever actors had time. In all, they spent less than $500 for the entire production because the actors were volunteers. Most of the budget went to music rights. Footage was shot on a video 8 camera (not even a Super 8) and edited on two Macs. Patricio’s connection with the makers of The Debut helped publicize this film. The makers of The Debut are currently working with Patricio and his team on an upcoming, yet-to-be-named project, said John Castro, who penned The Debut.

Discuss this review and film with the movie fiends at LoveThatLumpia.com and HBS.

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Comments

nakakaasar yang lumpia nyo panis na!!! walang ka kwenta-kwenta......mas maganda pa yung the debut gwapo ung bida.....IDOL!!

Posted by: Joseph at December 15, 2003 11:09 PM

OK, thanks Joseph. I have no idea what you said but thanks for the input anyways. I think I'll ask a few of my pals who speak Tagalog to interpret, heheh...

Posted by: Paul Honda at December 20, 2003 9:23 AM

hey! uhm...i'm kinda interested in watching this flick...is this available in the phil?

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