Overseas workers MANUEL IMSON and DADO LOPEGA are friends who work together in a bicycle factory located in a suburb of Taipei. They have left their idyllic seaside village in Kalibo in the southern Philippines for Taipei’s work opportunities and abundant promise. MANUEL and DADO are part of the largest ethnic minority that makes up Taiwan’s diverse migrant workforce—the Filipino Overseas Migrant Workers.
DADO and MANUEL live in a factory dormitory that houses migrant workers. The workers – packed in six to a room – have a government-mandated curfew every night. The end of a long workday barely leaves workers enough time to socialize or take care of personal chores. Missing curfew means deportation. Two days ago, their roommates, in fear of deportation after missing several curfews, have escaped to work illegally.
On Sundays Filipino migrant workers make the long bus trip from industrial areas on the outskirts of the city to Taipei’s “Little Philippines” on Zhongshan North Road. For one day this is not Taipei. As they would in Manila, Filipino immigrants go about their Sunday rituals and routines. The streets chime with people chatting in faraway dialects. They hang-out, gossip, shop and eat, and, more importantly, stand in long lines at shipping offices or “Padala Centers” to send gifts or remit money to their families back home.
The night before, DADO calls home and learns his wife has had a minor car accident. Feeling heavily guilty, DADO goes to Sunday confession and later breaks up his extra-marital affair with Anna. Meanwhile, MANUEL’S considerable romantic exertions to pick up a sexy Filipina, Cecilia, have come to naught. Distraught and homesick, the friends find themselves on a sidewalk bench. They stare out across the street—none of the usual chatter or laughter passes between them, not one word of commiseration.
Movers work across the street. A Taiwanese wife asks the movers to bring the used couch to the dumpster and the movers resist this extra workload. A verbal fight starts. DADO and MANUEL watch a Taiwanese street drama unfolding in front of them.
Finally, the movers and the couple compromise and leave the couch promptly on the sidewalk before they drive off. The creamy leather couch, perfect but for a tiny tea stain on its armrest, draws MANUEL and DADO over. They examine the couch and decide to take it back to their dormitory. Convenient Taipei public transportation are not helpful or possible; having just sent all their funds and gifts back home, the two are unable to afford a delivery service, so instead, they decide to carry the precious couch across town, on foot.
On their absurdist journey, MANUEL and DADO encounter different archetypal characters and come across the many faces of a typical globalizing, industrial city. Often humorous and poignant, rife with miscommunication, both parties attempt to overcome linguistic barriers—using Tagalog, Taiwanese, Mandarin, even broken English with each encounter.
MANUEL and DADO make their way through the snarls and eddies of Taipei traffic, attracting attention that sends them to a police precinct and on the TV news. At the precinct, MANUEL and DADO’S papers prove to be in order. Nobody’s reported a missing couch either. The two men and their couch, are soon back on the road.
MANUEL and DADO carry the couch out of the city and into the industrial hinterland. The adventure never stops; they further encounter a near-suicide attempt and an old man who offers to ferry them and their couch—only to bring them farther from their destination. Once back on track, they decide that following the river is the shortest way to their dormitory.
Lost, exhausted, and defeated, MANUEL and DADO‘s journey comes to a climax at sundown when tension explodes and panic strikes. Two long-time friends fight over the choice between facing deportation if they miss curfew and abandoning the now precious couch. They finally smooth things out by sharing a meal of microwave spaghetti and cold beer from a nearby 7-11 store, star-gazing and reminiscing of home turns into an evening spent on the couch by the riverside. It is well past curfew but for once, they are not concerned. MANUEL and DADO fall asleep to the sounds of the river and dream of their seaside hometown—singing along as the couch floats down the moon-lit river.
The following morning, MANUEL and DADO awake, stunned to discover the couch really is floating in the water, ruined. Uncertain of their future, they hide the couch away and return to work—yet another day of routine and ritual.
FILM REVIEW by HO YI in the Taipei Times in Enlgish expat paper:
[Foreign contract workers are] Hidden in plain sight
‘Pinoy Sunday’ will most likely not be playing at a theater near you because its subject is Taiwan’s migrant workers — a topic most cinemas think will be of little interest to mainstream Taiwan audiences
HO WI-DING (何蔚庭)
EPY QUIZON (MANUEL), BAYANI AGBAYANI (DADO), ALESSANDRA DE ROSSI (CECILIA), MERYLL SORIANO (ANNA)
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.
Director Ho, middle 30s, who hails from Muar, Johor, Malaysia, grew up on a diet of Hong Kong and Hollywood films. He then realised that he wanted to talk and read about films. Later, he wrote Chinese film reviews about Hong Kong films in the Chinese daily newspaper Sin Chew Jit Poh,.
"Too many crappy films got me thinking, if I make films, I can make better and more interesting films than the ones I don't like," Ho explained.
Ho left home to attend school in United States when he was 18. He graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Film Production Program, majoring in directing and writing.
After 10 years in the west, he returned to Asia to direct TV commercials in Singapore, before relocating to Taipei, Taiwan to continue directing. He has been there for four years now, making commercials, documentaries and music videos.
His thesis film, Still, garnered a bronze prize at the 1998 Wasserman Film Festival and was showcased in festivals in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Brisbane and Singapore. His other short film, Solstice, won the Oppenheimer Production Grant from Seattle in the United Statesand is currently in post-production.
His screenplay, Sketches, was a semi-finalist for the Richard Vague Production Grant, while another, Sons and Fathers, earned a special mention from the same grant and was a semi-finalist for the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently developing a feature project, a road movie called Lonely Together.
Ho feels making commercials is good training for a filmmaker who is starting out. "It gives good money and good connections for a filmmaker who is starting out," he explained. "Without working in commercials, I wouldn't have been able to make this film (Respire). You don't have to go to film school, just work in commercial productions for a couple of years."
He feels right at home in Taiwan and finds the Taiwanese warm and friendly. "Taiwan might not be the best place for commercial filmmaking but it carries a certain energy and creativity. Taiwan was actually a random choice for me. I wanted to go to Chinese-speaking countries and fortunately, I had a friend who stayed in Taipei. So I came here."
He said his experiences living and working abroad has taught him to be more objective, open-minded and detached toward a lot of issues he encountered later in his life. They have also helped him to tell stories at a more universal level.
That is why he admires German filmmaker Wim Wenders.
"He makes films in many countries, from his homelandfor the United States, Portugal and Cuba," said Ho. "He might not be my favourite filmmaker but I admire his nomadic filmmaking career."