Born and raised in Malaysia, educated in North America and having worked and lived in Taipei for the past nine years, Ho Wi-ding (何蔚庭) knows what it is to be an outsider. This no doubt is part of the reason why the director spent the past four years preparing, raising money for and making Pinoy Sunday (台北星期天), a humorous tongue-in-cheek peek at the life of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Taipei whose stories are rarely told.
The film centers on Manuel (Epy Quizon) and Dado (Bayani Agbayani), two Filipinos who work in a bicycle factory in a Taipei suburb. Their life at the plant entails six days of drudgery. Then there is Sunday. Like other Filipino migrant workers, the two friends make long bus trips to Taipei’s “Little Manila” on Zhongshan North Road (中山北路) where they go to church, hang out with their fellow countrymen, have fun and flirt with girls.
On one particular Sunday, Manuel and Dado discover a sofa that’s been discarded on a sidewalk. Excited about how the couch could bring a measure of comfort to their drab dormitory life, the pair decide to carry, on foot, their precious find across town, out of the city and back to the factory.
What is supposed to be a day of rest turns into an adventure in which the two wayfarers encounter various characters as they trek through Taipei’s urban hinterland.
Pinoy Sunday shows a different side of Taipei that is foreign to most of the city’s inhabitants. Instead of Sogo department stores and Eslite bookstores, our protagonists visit St Christopher’s Catholic Church and Chin Wan Wan (金萬萬) market, where OFWs hang out, shop and seek entertainment. On their return journey, they pass by junkyards and public housing complexes in Taipei’s desolate outskirts en route to their home in the city’s fringe, which is “far away from Taipei 101,” as Bayani’s character points out.
Through the lens of American cinematographer Jack Pollack, the image of two men carrying a bright red couch against a sparse rural/urban backdrop delivers a visual contrast that is both amusing and absurd.
“To me, this image is very third-world-country, and it can happen anywhere in the world. Imagine two Mexicans or a couple of poor foreign students carrying a sofa on the streets of Los Angeles,” said Ho, who has also made two shorts with Pollack, Respire (呼吸, 2005), which won two awards at Cannes, and Summer Afternoon (夏午, 2008). The two have been friends since their days as students at New York University.
When Ho decided to bring to life an image inspired by Roman Polanski’s 1958 short Two Men and a Wardrobe through a tale of Filipino migrant workers, he embarked on an intense year-long research project that involved hanging out with OFWs at Taipei’s Little Manila and similar communities. “It is like an ethnographic film project. You go into a tribe, observe, collect facts and make a report,” Ho told the Taipei Times.
But instead of making a slice-of-life portrait or poignant social critique like film critic-turned-director Rich Lee (李奇) does in Detours to Paradise (歧路天堂), Ho goes for a lighthearted and humorous tone, opting to depict the sunnier side of the lives of migrant workers, who sing karaoke, laugh, relax and can be themselves on their days off.
The discrimination and other forms of injustice inflicted on them by Taiwanese society do lurk beneath the surface, nevertheless, and are often rendered in comic absurdity. One example can be found in the film’s most poetic moment, when Manuel and Dado, lost and exhausted on a riverside at dusk, panic over the thought of missing the factory’s curfew, which could lead to them being deported. A dreamlike musical sequence follows, showing the two friends floating down the river, singing, drumming and playing guitar on their couch as if they were taking a boat trip back to their seaside hometown.
The film may be upbeat in tone, but the prospect of it reaching a great number of audiences is not. Despite the favorable reviews the film has received after it premiered at the Taipei Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival (台北金馬奇幻影展) last month, only two movie theaters, Spot — Taipei Film House (台北光點) and Vie Show Cinemas Xinyi (信義威秀影城), have agreed to show Pinoy Sunday. Most movie theaters hung back when they heard the story is about OFWs, and staff at one theater went so far as to say they didn’t want foreign migrant workers hanging around in front of the theater, according to Ho.
Moreover, the dominant Filipino language spoken by the leading characters also made the film, a recipient of the government’s Subsidy For Film Production (電影輔導金), run into trouble with the Government Information Office (GIO, 新聞局), which issues the money. Because one of the subsidy’s rules states that Chinese dialects should be the dominant languages spoken in government-funded films, an additional copy of the film was dubbed in Taiwanese, and several commercial screenings of it are required.
“I think it comes down to whether the GIO wants to encourage creativity or bureaucracy. We’d like to discuss with the [GIO] how to make the regulations more flexible for movies about new immigrants,” Ho said.
Foreign migrant workers with ID cards can buy movie tickets at a discount price of NT$150. Visit pinoysunday.pixnet.net/blog/post/6207639 to find out which six theaters are screening Pinoy Sunday in Taipei, Jhongli (中壢), Tainan, Douliu (斗六) and Kaohsiung.
HO WI-DING (何蔚庭)
EPY QUIZON (MANUEL),
BAYANI AGBAYANI (DADO), ALESSANDRA DE ROSSI (CECILIA), MERYLL SORIANO (ANNA)
TAGALOG, ILONGGO, ENGLISH, TAIWANESE AND MANDARIN WITH CHINESE AND ENGLISH SUBTITLES
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