Before the MCU became an unstoppable juggernaut, director and writer Patricio Ginelsa was developing his own superhero film featuring a Filipino protagonist. Lumpia refers to the savory snacks the hero chows down and throws when he encounters injustice. Though it has a home movie aesthetic, Lumpia was well received and even screened at events including the Hawaii International Film Fest. After its initial release in 2003, it’s receiving a second life thanks to the sequel, Lumpia with a Vengeance. Both will be screening at the San Diego Asian Film Festival this coming weekend.
The story takes place in the fictional Fogtown which has a significant Filipino population. It follows Mon Mon and his immigrant friends just trying to survive high school by earning good grades, hanging out together, and maybe even pursuing some romance. However, they are bullied by the neighborhood hoodlums led by Tyrone. Although they too are Filipino, they are American born and make the group miserable for being fresh off the boat. Whenever, things become dire for Mon Mon and his pals, the egg roll eating silent stranger appears to rescue them.
The low budget production value adds to the charm of Lumpia and fits will with the camp and cheesiness of the movie. It’s easy to get caught up in the moments such as the corny ballad the plays over and over again each time the love interest is seen. Many of the cast are childhood friends of Ginelsa and aren’t classically trained actors. Though that shows, you can still feel how much fun everyone had filming and there’s an overall, positive vibe. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but playing with the superhero theme, it does effectively incorporate comic art and panels into the storytelling.
The feature uses its overall light tone to highlight issues immigrants face when arriving to the United States in a palatable way. Mon Mon and his friends provide a lens to not only see the discrimination those who newly settle in America endure but the inner conflict of assimilating into a new land. But it’s also a Filipino story that integrates facets of the culture from the food to the language. Even for the fight scenes, they manage to showcase the martial art of Eskrima.
The writing and actor, Carlos Baon, make the silent avenger’s presence known without the use of any dialog. Any time he’s called into action he draws your attention while decked out in a traditional barong. During the final confrontation between Mon Mon and Tyrone, there’s a little twist in the end demonstrating the silent avenger proves he’s against evil and injustice in any form. Not just against the immigrants.
Lumpia is a passion project and took seven years to complete. Sometimes that shows on the screen and it can wander and stray off the point at times. Occasionally it can lead to playful tangents such as a makeover before a big party, while elsewhere it can drag out chase scenes. In addition, Mon Mon’s story can get bogged down and he isn’t always the most likeable lead but that also plays with his overall arc. I’d also be remiss to say some aspects don’t age well from when it was initially released in 2003. There’s gratuitous use of racial and homophobic slurs that is off-putting. At least Ginelsa acknowledges that and tries to bleep out anytime those words are heard.
Despite some dated facets, Lumpia is an amusing off the wall high school tale of fitting in through the eyes of immigrants while incorporating captivating superhero elements.