In first-time writer/director/producer Gene Cajayon's coming-of-age drama, THE
DEBUT, Ben Mercado (Dante Basco) is torn between two worlds. His
Filipino-American home couldn't be more ethnic, but he spends his time hanging
out with his white buddies from school. He doesn't bring his friends home, and,
when once forced to, he tries to hide his family and the heavy smell of Filipino
food coming from the kitchen.
Ben's domineering, postman father wants Ben to be the success that he isn't.
And with the offer of a scholarship to UCLA, Ben appears to be following in the
medical school tradition of some other members of the Mercado family. Ben,
however, has a radically different dream. He has sold his prize possession, a
collection of classic comic books, in order to pay the tuition to Cal Arts,
where he has been accepted to study comic book artistry. "Stop it with those
stupid pictures of yours!" his father keeps barking at him with palpable
A heartfelt, crowd-pleaser of a story, THE DEBUT suffers from acting that can be
amateurish at times and a plot that could be called clichéd were the film not so
honest in its presentation. But it is a movie that is able to rise above its
limitations. It is also one that is careful to show that racist attitudes occur
in all cultures. The story takes place over one night at two parties, one white
and one brown, as several of the Filipino-American characters refer to their
race. Interestingly, the movie's one bad guy, a Filipino-American named Augusto
(Darion Basco), spends all of his time trying to talk like the leader of a black
The white party, which we join only briefly, is a typical collection of older
teens who are trying to drink themselves silly. Ben and his two white buddies
turn out to be more comfortable at the Filipino-American party, which is a
substitute debutante ball for Ben's sister, Rose (Bernadette Balagtas). Ben's
disapproving grandfather is ashamed of the way his son can afford only a mere
birthday party for Rose's coming out. Just as we sympathize with Ben's plight,
we also empathize with his father's since we can see how he is the product of
Of course, there will be a beautiful girl at the party, Annabelle (Joy Bisco),
who will be dating the tough guy, Augusto. And, of course, there will be the
requisite fight. That it is all predictable doesn't negate its impact. I found
myself applauding at one point as one guy finally got what was coming to him.
Filmed handsomely by Hisham Abed, THE DEBUT isn't one of those indie pictures
shot on grainy video that attempts to equate gritty ugliness with realism.
The movie knows when to back off and include some self-deprecating humor. The
best of the film's humor comes from the party's Filipino-American militant. As
the guys drool over some hot cams, he explains about the "car conspiracy." It
turns out that white folks have invented hot cars as a way to distract
Filipino-Americans from their lack of opportunities. He claims that they've
never had a brown driver at the Indianapolis 500 and never will because it's all
part of this vast conspiracy. Ben's two white friends are astounded by this
revelation. "That's deep!" one of them remarks quite seriously. They couldn't
have been more impressed if someone had figured out who the other members of Lee
Harvey Oswald's team were.
THE DEBUT runs 1:34. It isn't rated but might be PG-13 for language and one
fistfight. The film would be acceptable for kids around 11 or 12 and up.
The film is playing in limited release now in the United States. In the Silicon
Valley, it is showing at a few AMC and Century theaters.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes