ASIAN PERSUASION: Jhett Tolentino's Bid to a More Inclusive Hollywood

‘Asian Persuasion,’ starring Dante Basco and KC Concepcion, now screens across Philippine cinemas.

By: Dec. 01, 2023
ASIAN PERSUASION: Jhett Tolentino's Bid to a More Inclusive Hollywood

Manila, Philippines--Amidst excitement and anticipation, "Asian Persuasion,” a film by Tony and Grammy-winning Filipino producer Jhett Tolentino, premiered on Monday evening, November 27, at SM Megamall Cinema 2. During the exclusive press screening, press members along with the cast and creatives talked about the future of Asian cinema, diversity and representation, and the pivotal role Filipino-American actors play in Hollywood.

Lead stars Dante Basco, KC Concepcion, Kevin Kreider, Paolo Montalban, the support cast Geneva Carr and Fe Delos Reyes, and the production team headed by director-producer Tolentino and writer-producer Mike Ang were challenged through a quiz by the press. Joining Concepcion and cast onstage for a brief tête-à-tête with fans and guests was actor and former matinee idol Gabby Concepcion.

“Asian Persuasion” follows the story of Mickey (Basco), a down-on-his-luck chef known for a crazy cooking scheme to marry off his ex-wife, Avery (Concepcion) to avoid his substantial alimony obligations. With the help of Caspian (Kreider), his trusted wingman, the chef gets off to a hot start but belatedly realizes he wants a second chance with his ex.

The film starts slowly with a tired, impersonal exchange between estranged couple Avery and Mickey, who nonchalantly signs the divorce paper without reading it. Set in the dynamic city of New York, the act of indifference elicits frustration in the wife and serves as the premise and pivot of this romantic story. With a sprinkle of Pinoy culture, humor, and a heavy dose of drama and tears, what happens next is a rollercoaster of schemes and foiled attempts.

Narrated mainly in English with a new premise for the Filipino diaspora to explore and narrative tropes, will this well-intentioned work capture the heart of the movie-going Pinoy masses?

Additionally, the subject of divorce is looming ominously imminent in the Philippine Congress, will Pinoys find time to laugh off the alimony headaches afterward?

Filipino-American Hollywood star Basco has seen some extensive glittery Hollywood stints. He has done quite notable voice acting roles in Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Prince Zuko) and Disney Channel’s “American Dragon: Jake Long” (Jake Long). Basco is best remembered as Rufio, the leader of the Lost Boys, in the Steven Spielberg movie “Hook.”

As Mickey, Basco delivers a good performance; he is endearing as a desperate chef and occasionally funny. However, the script does not allow Basco to explore a more sincere and deeper characterization. Basco and Kreider are quite a tandem to boot, landing some light jabs here and there, but the pair needs the necessary ROFL moments to truly connect with the audience’s funny bones. However, as a father to his young daughter, Sam, he can be endearing and easy to empathize with.

Locally known as the “Mega Daughter” of the Philippines’ megastar, Sharon Cuneta, Concepcion is no stranger to cinema. She has established herself as an actress, singer, dancer, TV host, entrepreneur, socialite, and humanitarian.  

As fashion designer Avery, Concepcion persuades with laughable gullibility and convincing pathos in a revealing dramatic moment as the plot hits a climactic high. Her interpretation as a constricted divorcee is the most empathetic and nuanced of all the performances.

Korean-American actor-model Kreider provides a promisingly funny sidekick. As cagey and suggestively scheming Caspian, his rapport with Mickey needs uncontrived and more organic dialogue. As bartender Caspian, he is better off with Carr’s Helene in their bedroom romps.

As an online dater Lee, Montalban embodies the comedic relief the movie needs. His portrayal of a financially successful stockbroker, but socially awkward lover, is a perfect foil for his own "leading man" looks.

As Caspian’s ex-girlfriend Helene, Caucasian Tony-nominated actress Carr provides the much-needed comedic breather when the film drones on sluggishly, thanks to her well-crafted pairing with Kreider.

Other notable highlights are the commanding presence of US-based Filipino actress Fe Delos Reyes, young film and theater actress Scarlett Sherr as Sam, and scene-stealer Yam Concepcion.

In “Asian Persuasion,” Tolentino’s vision of an ultra-inclusive and multi-diverse cast comes to fruition. He admittedly wanted to jump onto the bandwagon of Asian movies being recognized by Hollywood for such a vision, demonstrating the marketability of diverse narratives and challenging stereotypes.

In creating a more inclusive Hollywood that reflects the rich tapestry of Asian experiences, increased visibility of Asian talent in various genres and roles is essential. These efforts underscore the industry's recognition of the need for diverse voices and stories that resonate with a global audience.

Tolentino and Ang’s contribution to the Hollywood diversity and inclusion rhetoric deserves to be appreciated and supported, with hopes that global producers and audiences provide for a more nuanced representation of diverse cultures within the broader category of "Asian," pushing for authentic storytelling that goes beyond stereotypes.