Studio: Columbia TriStar
Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: Tagalog, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese & Chinese
Release Date: September 9, 2003
Independent Filipino film director Gene Cajayon makes his debut to the film screen with a story about being an American Filipino and the choices that surround one in a white majority society. The Debut focuses on a Filipino teenage boy who’s life is consumed by his school, his friends, and the lifestyle he wishes to be a part – all which his family says is American white culture. Ben Mercado (Danté Basco) is at odds with his father (Tirso Cruz III) on the choice of his career after high school. Ben’s father wants him to go on to be a doctor and not to 'waste time and money' at Cal Arts School, Ben's choice of school to enhance his art skills. Then one night he has to make another choice; to go to a drinking party that friends from his school are holding, or to go to his sister’s debutante (birthday party) that is attended by his relatives. Ben’s mind is split in his decision for the evening. He doesn’t want to let either his friends or his family down and he has to decide what is more important to him. The evening’s events could change quickly after he meets a beautiful girl and also has a tense run-in with her ex boyfriend - his old friend turned enemy.
The Debut rings a bell because most viewers can identify with many of its issues. We have all dealt with wanting to be accepted, with wanting to please our families, and with deciding what is more important in life for the moment. Ben’s decisions are very real. How many of us wanted to be with friends more than with family? How many of us have fought with our fathers on what was best for ourselves? Much of the dialogue is close to home, and the writing is well done without feeling embarrassed of it. Some of the lines of tense dialogue I could pull right out of a conversation with my own personal experiences. Despite being directed slightly more at Filipinos, I never felt foreign to this movie. This is a tasteful ethnic film that doesn’t go on being offending to those who are not Filipino. All dialogue is done in good taste and with a sense of humor to get its message across. While the acting can be a little hokey at times, there are some really good moments that deserve attention. I especially liked Darion Basco’s bully character, I thought he played the role well. Although the moments he was trying to be serious it looked like he was ready to crack a laugh off camera but it added to his character, which I appreciated. Most of the cast was flown in from the Philippines, and the whole production was virtually all done by Filipinos. The Debut is an independent film that has gone a long way to receive recognition in theatres across the United States in 2001. Its creators had a target audience but can be appreciated by many more. While grossing only several million across 15 theatres, The Debut has found its debut to DVD for an even wider audience.
Picture Quality? /
The 1.85:1 film on this DVD is enhanced for widescreen televisions. The picture exhibits a warm tone throughout that makes me feel like I really am watching ‘film’. The print has the occasion specks of dirt and film grain but shouldn’t detract too much. At times it seems the original photography is out-of-focus, thus many scenes seem to want more detail. There is good contrast between dark and light images, but colours seem slightly desaturated and undefined at times. There is minor pixelization to report of as well.
Sound Quality? /
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, the sound is mostly mono except for the sequences with music that offer a nice stereo spread. Effects are limited in dynamics, and dialogue intelligibility varies throughout the film. There are times when one can tell when the dialogue was used that was recorded on the set because it carries the natural sonic signatures of the environment. This can vary from being clear to muddy and hard to understand. Then there are other times that seem ADR produced and isn’t integrated that well. Occasionally the voice is not synced with lips to the point that it seemed like several words of dialogue were changed.
When engaging Dolby Pro-Logic II there is a slight enhancement to the rear channels. I also felt that the sounds placed in the centre channel were not coherent with the front L/R. I almost preferred listening to this soundtrack in stereo rather than engaging Pro-Logic II. I’ll let you decide for yourself. Bass it there when needed for the music, but this isn’t really a stellar soundtrack anyways. Considering the film’s budget it will do.
Special Features? /
Wow, for an independent film this disc got high treatment on the extra features list! Where to start? First we get a commentary from Director and Writer Gene Cajayon and Co-Writer John Manal Castro. It wasn’t too bad of a commentary as they elaborate on the story as they watch it and also give insight to the sets and the people involved with many sequences of the film.
Next we are treated with an alternate opening sequence and five deleted scenes. All scenes are non-anamorphic and are unfinished so they are a little rough looking. Each scene is about a minute to a minute and a half except for the last one that is about 2m30s. Each scene doesn’t add much to the film, but I liked the fourth deleted scene the most because it expands on the Filipino dance sequence (Pandango Sallaw) a little more. We are also treated to a three minute gag reel featuring a variety of fun goof-ups on the set.
The documentary The Making of The Debut (20min) shows us some behind the scenes footage and sets up the tone for the two short films presented on this disc that helped influence this movie to what it is today. The Original “Debut” short is the film made by Director Gene Cajayon who presented it to the financers to show where he wanted to take the film. Also included is Diary of a Gangsta Sucka written by co-writer John Manal Castro. This short is based on Filipino gangs in L.A. Both are presented 4:3 and are stereo encoded.
No less than four featurettes are also included on this disc! Three are from the “Mercado Files”. The Artwork of “The Debut” (2min) interviews the Filipino artists that were used for the movies artwork. “The Debut” Music (2min) tells us about the Filipino music artists used for this film. The third featurette is The Basco Brothers (3.5min), an interview with all four brothers used for the film. We get a little insight on how these guys are off-camera…well, almost off-camera. The last featurette is titled The Little Film That Could: Touring the Country (8min), and shows us the hard work the creators put in to personally open this film in fifteen cites across the entire USA. They targeted large Filipino populated areas in hopes of the largest response. That response can be seen in one of the two theatrical trailers and TV spots.
Have I missed anything? Hmm…other than weblinks, I don’t believe I have. I am amazed of the level of work that went into this DVD and amazed at the dedication these young men and women went through to get this film out to the country. I really enjoyed this movie - more and more I keep proving to myself that it’s the smaller films bringing real issues to our movie viewing that make for enjoyable movie watching. All I can say is “good job guys - even though only 300 000 tickets were sold theatrically, you have a kick-ass DVD and a good movie.” I’ll be looking forward to their second film “Filipina Gangsta” …well ok…it may not be, but based on their talents and writing background it would sound like it could make a cool movie...?