The Basco family, referred to by some as the “First Filipino Entertainment Family,” has been breaking barriers in Hollywood for decades. All of the Basco siblings — Derek (“The First Purge”), Darion (“Cesar Chavez”), Dante (“Artificial”) and Dionysio/Dion (“The Head Thieves”), along with their sister Arianna (“Glimmer”) — have been in the film industry for years. Dante in particular has had a pretty illustrious career in both live-action and voice acting. Some might even recognize him as the voice of Prince Zuko in the beloved Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Importantly, the film “The Debut,” which starred Dante Basco and featured the rest of his family, was the first theatrically-released Filipino-American film in the United States. Through their presence in Hollywood, all of them have now become important figures in the Filipino-American community.
Their latest film, “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers,” is a true family affair. Directed by Dante and co-written by Dante, Darion, Dion and Arianna, the film features the four Basco brothers as part of a fictional (but deeply rooted in reality) Filipino-American family. There’s Dayo (Derek Basco), the oldest and most dependable, Danton, known as “Danny Boy” (Darion Basco), who’s still nursing a two-year heartbreak, Duke (Dante Basco), who is referred to as “the lucky one” and Dave (Dionysio/Dion Basco), the youngest, described in the film as a “weirdo,” with Arianna Basco narrating the film.
The story is told not through an overarching plot, but through a series of four vignettes, one per brother, happening before or during one wedding. Most of the Basco brothers have had smaller parts in past movies; in this Basco-made, family-heavy film, however, all four brothers are given a chance to shine in their respective vignettes.
Dayo, in the process of trying to make enough money to cover the wedding banquet, finds himself having to juice up a chicken prior to a cockfight (it’s a long story). Duke, while in Manila on business, runs into his high school sweetheart (Solenn Heussaff, “Temptation Island”), and the two reconnect and walk around the city. Dave finds himself getting into a lengthy and deeply cringe-inducing battle with a woman over who can use food for the most graphic sexual innuendo. Danny Boy frees himself from his wallowing as he goes on a date with Theresa (Liza Lapira, “21”) and falls in love over the course of the night.
The timeline bounces between the wedding and the brothers’ individual stories in a way that is occasionally hard to follow but ensures that you spend some quality time with each of them. Even if you do find yourself lost, the storyline’s return to the wedding is usually indicated by the presence of colorful cummerbunds, close-ups of mouth-wateringly delicious food and narration elucidating candid observations of Filipino-American culture. Despite the wedding being the central event of the film, though, any information about it — like, say, who is getting married — is frustratingly withheld until the very end.
At times, the dialogue feels generic and overdramatic, and the fact that the banter occasionally feels scripted is unfortunate; I have to assume that no one could improvise sibling teasing better than a group of actual brothers. That said, the best lines in the film are probably Theresa’s; she says some beautiful sentiments, which are elevated by Lapira’s gentle delivery. Writing aside, the directing, production and cinematography of the film are all excellent. It’s a very pretty film, from the bright colors of the wedding to the nighttime lighting in Manila.
Many of the moments, including the wedding, take place at Dayo’s house — a big, lively household where everyone in the family can come over whenever they’d like. It’s this sense of family — from the camaraderie to the mild antagonism — that drives the film. Both the opening and closing credits are filled with old home videos and photos of the four Basco brothers and their families. Not to mention that, based on watching the credits (which are filled with Bascos), the brothers included a lot of their own family members in the film; nieces and nephews, for example, are played by the Bascos’ actual nieces and nephews. Regardless of whether these candid observations of Filipino culture are universally true, there is a strong personal element within the film — an enthusiasm that comes straight from the heart of the Basco family.
In a time when hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, it’s wonderful to see a celebration of Asian-American culture that is this joyful and passionate. It’s true that the film feels a little chaotic at times — but what family isn’t a little chaotic?
In a webinar event celebrating the record number of Filipino filmmakers at SXSW Online 2021, Dante Basco talked about the personal experiences that drove the film. Calling in from where his family was gathering for his sister’s birthday party, the faint scuffling in the background indicated that his family is just as boisterous as it is portrayed as in the film.
When asked about what makes a film “Filipino,” Dante reflected on the ways that perspective affects the films that get to be made: “All of the roles I’ve ever played in my life … up until now, pretty much, 99% of all the roles were written from a white male’s perspective. Hollywood was built on a white male’s perspective … It doesn’t make anything false, it doesn’t make anything racist, it just makes it from that person’s perspective.”
This film, therefore, offered the unique chance to showcase his own experiences and perspectives, and those of his family’s, by bringing in the specificities of their family and their culture.
“It’s ironic,” Dante said, “the more details we get personal about ourselves, the more universal it actually becomes.”
“The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” certainly has some of that universal quality, especially found in the petty banter and general shenanigans of a big family. But at the same time, it’s, as Dante described it, “very Basco” — specific to their family and their culture in a way that is passionate and enjoyable to watch.
“When you’re filmmaking … it’s a very personal experience,” Dante said. “Little by little you put your DNA in that movie; it just so happens that my DNA is Filipino-American, from Pittsburg, California, one of five brothers and sisters … it’s all in that film.”
Senior Arts Editor Kari Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.